The PUBLIC LIBRARY project has developed out of research around libraries and public space, attempting to re-imagine them as more inclusive and accessible while responding to the needs of those who want to access them.
It is one in an ongoing series of ‘Space Studies’ facilitated by The Dissenter. The Dissenter is concerned with supporting grassroots activity in the arts and creating a community environment that combats some of the prevailing challenges to production and access to space. The idea for a library felt like a natural fit for the studio complex at Henderson Row, its aims aligning with the work and values of the collective of artists and practitioners working there.
The public programme of events and workshops at PUBLIC LIBRARY provides a place where participants can shape the form and contents of the library to reflect their own vision and expectations of what a communal space might look like. It offers an active space where collective experience, knowledge and conversation can be held alongside books and other physical artefacts.
The building that The Dissenter occupies, at 57 Henderson Row, is a former insurance office, the databases of which are still held and maintained on site, existing alongside the new artist studios and production spaces. This creates an interesting relationship between the library as a space for holding knowledge, experience and written materials, and the vast corporate data storage units operating on the other side of the wall.
In the coming months, there are plans to install book shelving in the space, where a collection of printed materials, including art and design theory and a selection of artist publishing will be available as a resource for visitors. There will be space within this collection for users of the library to add publications or artefacts that hold an importance for them and are representative of the kind of materials they would like to see held within a public collection.
In August 2023, Aberdeen-based collective Tactics for Togetherness facilitated the first workshop at PUBLIC LIBRARY. Exploring the notion of ‘comfort’ in public space, they delivered a cushion-making activity which brought together participants to create soft furnishings for use in the library’s future events and activities. Following this, the group created a manifesto for the library in the form of a memory game, ‘I went to the library and…’ identifying some of the key functions of libraries and public spaces and proposing new ways of making use of them.
Earlier this year, Tactics for Togetherness launched Communal Powers, a project that developed from an exhibition in October 2021 presented as part of the Beyond British Art Show 9 programme. In the collective’s words, Communal Powers is:
‘ …a resource library of books, tools and other equipment that may be useful to artists, makers and readers. A programme of events will run throughout this year activating the library, as a place that holds physical resources, but also where people come together to learn, think in new ways and share experiences.’
Tactics for Togetherness, 2023
The visual identity for PUBLIC LIBRARY is the work of artist Caitlyn Main. Caitlyn was commissioned to create a screen print poster edition that adopted some of the classic ornamental motifs that grace many historic public buildings and institutions. She sought to re-work them in her distinctive style with delicate mark-marking and a playful, illustrative touch. With this commission Caitlyn was interested in thinking about borders, edges and boundaries, reflecting the way that books and artefacts are categorised in libraries and museums.
The second event in the programme was a performance workshop devised by Amsterdam-based artist Billy Morgan. The workshop titled ‘Word’s End’ used found text as a starting point, and participants were able to explore the relationship between text and performance through a series of exercises led by Billy. Approaching the written word in this way, Billy Morgan proposes the addition of movement to an activity most commonly practised sitting down.
Moving forward with the project, there are plans to continue the programme of workshops and collaborations with artists into next year. There will also be open doors sessions, where visitors will have the opportunity to spend time in the space, accessing resources in the library collection.
PUBLIC LIBRARY is a project initiated by Jacob Hoffman. Jacob is a visual artist and facilitator based in Edinburgh. Follow @publiclibrary2023 on Instagram for updates.
Caitlyn Holly Main is an artist and writer concerned with intimacy, emotional labour, desire and consumption. Caitlyn currently works at Gray’s School of Art as a lecturer in Contemporary Art Practice.
Tactics for Togetherness is an artist collective concerned with building sustained support for artists in Aberdeen. TfT comprises Phoebe Banks (she/her), Yvette Bathgate (she/her), Kirsty Russell (she/her), Jake Shepherd (he/him) and Jess Wilson-Leigh (she/her), all graduates of Gray’s School of Art and now based in Aberdeen and Tallinn.
Billy Morgan is an artist based in Amsterdam who works across text, performance, and video. The estrangement of established frameworks—linguistic, relational, historical, erotic— is at the crux of their work.This twist often pivots around language as a conveyor of meaning, power and old tongues.
PUBLIC LIBRARY is supported by OuterSpaces, the Hope Scott Trust and Scottish Artists Union with Scottish Union Learning.