The Good Books: Shrine / Installation
Commissioned by Durham University as part of SitC Festival
Created by Lady Kitt in response to 18 month social art residency at Cosins' Library with artist Sofia Barton
An explosive wave of bright pink paper which bursts from an unused bookshelf, carries our new “good books” down to the heart of the library into a comfy, playful reading nook with cushions and an invitation for visitors to contribute their own stories.
Cosin’s Library, Palace Green Library, DH1 3RN
Wednesday 27 July – Sunday 14 August 2022
Celebrating and sharing work made during the artist’s residency at Bishop Cosins’ Library.
Including artwork and stories by:
Steph Robson; The New Brancepeth Revellers; Staff and pupils at: Esh CE Primary School; Hunwick Primary School; The Ribbon Academy; Yohden Primary; Diana Collecott (friend of Ruth First); Debra Sithole (Ruth First Scholar Durham University, 2019-20)
"Exhibiting physical objects is a challenge in my social art practice, as the most interesting, beautiful, potent things which happen in projects are usually ephemeral and relational- stuff I call “creative intimacies”. With the installations I create, I aim to build environments which highlight, celebrate, tenderly expose, and fiercely care for, the social stuff that happens during / through / because of wider projects. By creating large, vibrant visual spectacles I hope to draw visitors in, inviting them to then explore and ponder the stories, connections, material changes and shared enthusiasms which, to me, are the essence of socially engaged ways of working”.
Durham University’s Cosin’s Library is one of the earliest public libraries in the North East of England. In the late seventeenth century, libraries for public use were extremely rare in England and only certain types of people were allowed in. When Cosin opened his ‘public’ library on Palace Green, he limited access to members of the clergy, lawyers and other learned gentlemen in the Diocese of Durham. Access to good books was therefore limited to a small group of men.
‘The library was founded as a “public library” with a mission to give local people access to “good books”. Cosin’s library is a public library where the good books it houses are largely authored by (we assume) white, straight, non-disabled, privileged men. Located within one of the oldest and most elite universities in England. Where the only door with step free access isn’t open.’
(Sofia Barton, Lady Kitt)
The Oxford English Dictionary defines public as:
“of or concerning the people as a whole”, “ordinary people in general; the community.” Specifically giving the example “”the library is open to the public”.
Over the last few years, Cosin’s library has been closed for conservation work, reopening earlier this year. In late 2019, the University was awarded funding for a two-year project to open up the library to the wider public by Arts Council England under its Designation Development Fund scheme. Part of this funding included a social art residency with Sofia Barton and Lady Kitt.
‘Cosin’s library has been “open to the public” for over 300 years. But it has not been accessible to us. It has not been of us. It has historically been physically, culturally, intellectually, and conceptually un-public.
So, we thought: How can art help make un-public libraries be more public?
Our answer: Use collaborative creativity to make books which joyfully insert “people in general; the community” into the library. Collaborating with local people to make books and use them to inject under-told stories, access information and a marching jazz band into the library.’
(Sofia Barton, Lady Kitt)