Over time, libraries have become much more than storage buildings for books. It’s become possible in recent years to conduct an entire research project online without ever coming in contact with a physical text. Consequently, one can spend a good amount of time wandering through the various collaborative, digital, and exhibition spaces of Lutnick Library, before they arrive at the dense collection of reading material known as “the stacks,” which have been neatly tucked away and compressed in the building’s subterranean level.
The Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery’s newest exhibit, Scoring the Stacks (Experiment II), is a participatory project designed by artist Kameelah Jana Rasheed that puts visitors in direct contact with the stacks and other institutional spaces through a series of imaginative instructions. It is the second such experiment in the artist’s ongoing series, which began with a similar exhibit at the Brooklyn Public Library earlier this year.
My experience with the exhibit began on the first floor of the library where I found a collection of “scores,” or cards, organized by subject, with varying instructions written on them.
“Find a yellow book,” read the first card I grabbed. “Open to the last page. Write down the word that is least familiar.”
In quest of a yellow book, I descended into the basement-level stacks. I stayed down there for some time, moving between varying instructions. Among other tasks, I was asked to identify, in a red book, the word that I wished did not exist and, in a thin book, find a word I’d like to use in a future conversation. In the course of my journey, I found myself in several different sections: historical nonfiction, religion, and poetry. All the while I was turning over my memory to find words and ideas that lined up with the instructions.
Eventually, the cards led me outside, in search of a “tall tree” so that I could “sketch one leaf.” There was a strange similarity between the way, a minute earlier, I had been moving through the shelves trying to decide what books might qualify as thick, and how I was now walking through campus deliberating over which trees were tall.
This, to me, seemed to be the main aim of Scoring the Stacks: to interrogate the idea of how we read our natural environments. It’s easy to take things for granted, whether it’s the natural beauty of campus, the vast repository of knowledge sitting in the basement of the library, or our own perceptions and memories. By having us reimagine what these environments are used for, Scoring the Stacks makes its participants consciously interpret and interact with what they usually only ever unconsciously acknowledge. It was a way of having me recognize, what on campus might be a “piece of art,” what conversations have stuck with me over time, and just how much can be learned from paying closer attention.
The exhibit, which runs through December 15, encourages participants to go on their own journey and undertake their own search, which can start in the library or the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery. Upon finishing, they should deposit their completed and notated scores into bins located by the scores. Rasheed is assembling the collected cards into a book, which will be released Dec. 4 at an on-campus launch party.
Support for the exhibition and programs is provided by the John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities and Haverford College Libraries.