The Good Books
Lady Kitt and Sofia Barton
Social art residency at Cosin's Library, Durham, UK
Commissioned by Durham University
Funded by Arts Council England
What are these photos of books?: Books made / altered in response to the residency. The books are not the project, they are a trace of the emotional, creative and social interactions between Sofia, Kitt and other people involved in the project and our responses to the context of Cosin’s library.
What (wider project)?: A 2020-2022, socially engaged artist residency at Cosin’s library, with Lady Kitt and Sofia Barton (co-authored by groups and individuals living in, or with a strong connection to, Durham). Through a series of collaborations, workshops and discussion about what public libraries have been, are and could be, Kitt and Sofia present four “Good Books”.
Why approach the project like we did?
Because Cosin’s library is one of the “earliest (founded in 1669) public libraries in the North East of England”, with a mission to give local people access to “good books”.
Because Cosin’s library is a “public library”:
where the “good books” it houses are largely by white, straight, cis, non-disabled, massively privileged men.
in the middle of one of the oldest and most elite universities in England (possible the world).
where the only door with step free access didn’t open.
We believe these things are culturally and socially significant and need documenting and gently challenging with as many tools as possible. Collaborative art making is our tool of choice.
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"
Cosin’s library has been “open to the public” for over 300 years.
But it has not been accessible to us. It is not of us.
It has been physically, culturally, intellectually, 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 insert “people in general; the community” into the library. We can’t change physical access, but we can take the format of these lauded “good books” and use them to inject under-told stories, hidden histories, practices of care and a marching jazz band into the library.
These books and other documentation / resources where developed by Kitt and Sofia particularly considering our ongoing learning through the research project "Framing Social Art In Collections". We have focused on creating and preserving items which could be collected by Durham University Art Collection and, as such, might contextualise / set the scene of the project, especially our social art approaches and methodologies.
There is a link to a folder of information and documentation (including template consent forms and etiquette documents for the project) HERE
Below is a short text by Kitt about why they have used "temporary illustration" / "book cuckoo -ing" as a methodology in this project.
"These illustrations are hand cut into pre existing books. They have been meticulously designed to avoid removing any sections of paper from each sheet, instead some sections are cut on two of three sides and then folded down to give the appearance of a void in the paper. This ensures that the text remains intact.
I refer to books that I’ve illustrated in this way as having been “gently cuckoo*-ed” or “tenderly brood para-sat”. These illustrations are always intended as reverential adaptations, and hopefully not experienced as destruction.
I like this temporary type of artwork. I feel it reflects the ephemeral and processed based approaches of social art, which is often focussed more on the collective and creative interactions between people involved in projects, rather than “finished” artworks or objects. I also like that the delicate nature of the illustrations, encourages slow and thoughtful looking at, and touching of, the books. Hopefully, inspiring people to explore the work in ways that are “care-filled”, something else that is important in my approach to art projects.
I think of the projects I’m involved in, in terms of palimpsests*- taking pre-existing ideas / contexts, inviting people to question and gently dismantle them, creating new connections and structures around the faintly legible remains.
* Cuckoo- a bird who, rather violently, uses other birds’ nests for it’s own eggs
** Something having layers vaguely visible beneath the surface. Writing material (such as a parchment or tablet) used one or more times after earlier writing has been erased."
Lady Kitt, 2022