I received an invitation to go a place I had wanted to go for ages: the Brooklyn Art Library.
For this library is not like the usual one you are used to. There are books, obviously, but instead of printed and commercialized ones, they are all handmade and unique. The idea behind this store/library/art project is to gather and to preserve sketchbooks from all over the world. Artists register on the website to receive a sketchbook at home. Then, they fill it with artworks of their own before returning it to the Library. Every sketchbook is added to the database and/or to the digital library. The public can browse the sketchbooks by country, city, theme, names, etc.
This means over the last years the Library has already gathered thousands of them. It is pretty impressive to walk in the store and see all those books. It has not the same vibe as a normal library. When you walk in a room full of sketchbooks, it feels like you are standing in front of thousands of intimate moments. Knowing that every page of every book was painted or drew by hand is pretty touching. The time it took for every artist to fill a sketchbook gives a deep value to the object. And it made me imagine how amazing it must have been to live in the pre-printing era. During those times where every book was handmade. Knowing that the paper object you held in your hands was the only existing copy, and was therefore so precious.
My visit to the Library made me realized how technology can create a distance between our body, the object and the content. When you hold one of those sketchbook in your hand and flip the pages, you can not help but imaging the hand moving and tracing the lines or painting on the page. Because you can see every detail of the pen movements, you can actually imagine a body and a hand making the art work and content. Same as a painting. The content make you feel the creation process. When I hold a printed book, I do not feel any desire to relate to how the object was made. No image of the printing machine comes to my mind. It feels cold, one book amongst thousands of identical books. It can be a really beautiful object, but it does not create that intimacy feeling you have when holding a hand written note or a drawing.
It is even more the case with digital tablets like iPads, Kindles, iPhones, etc. When you hold one of those objects, do you feel the need to related to the person who made it? Have you ever imaged the factory workers assembling the parts and building the device? Or the programmer coding on his keyboard? I never thought about this. Technology brings us closer to the content by making it more accessible. You can connect, download anytime, everywhere. But on the other hand, it distances ourselves from the object itself. The object becomes a tool, a device with functions. The object is separated from the content itself. It’s mean is to display content, but the object is not content itself. Devices are empty boxes/spaces you fill with whatever content please you.
These reflections made me realized I do want to produced technological and interactive objects that are both a device and content. Objects that merge the form and content. Using shapes enhancing the storytelling, not only shapes displaying content. The ideal interactive context is the one in which the object is the story, tells the story. I also want to build interactive experiences that create an intimacy between the storytelling/object and the public.
When I first enter the Brooklyn Art Library, it felt like I was about to meet friends. About to converse directly with souls. It is a place where you do not feel loneliness. Because thousands of people have put their minds on paper. And all those minds are there before your eyes to be discovered. The invitation suggested me to look at a sketchbook by the artist Charles Clary. I am so glad I discovered his work which merges form and content perfectly and in a unique way.
I can not wait to have my own sketchbook on the shelves.