Daniel and I recently chatted with Alex Felton, the RR artist-in-residence. His re-positioning of furniture, as well as his curatorial eye for associations between 2 or more books, had captured the most attention from us and fellow PICA members. But what to make of it? He currently works for Multnomah County Library, which certainly puts his methods in context. When I walk by on the way to the kitchen or something, I see him using the wi-fi to conduct research. To justify having the RR, it does wonders to have people hanging out doing just that, but inevitably there are aspects to how it actually functions that we aren’t aware of.
Alex’s assumed role, in part, is to test whether or not the RR is working as-is. So far his small interventions in the space seem whimsical, although not without a purpose. Two chairs are stacked against a wall to gently guide people from the built-in shelves to a stand alone bookcase behind them, where the catalog continues. There, books in the collection have been placed side by side on display (see above photo), akin to a “librarian recommends” section. Thus you see monographs of work by Ray Johnson and Charles Ray put together, but the original motivation for doing so is unexplained. He was quick to dispel the notion of reading his intent directly by title or cover design by pointing out a couple picks meant to “throw off” the viewer (“Mike’s World” - who the hell is Mike anyway?). Instead, he said, accompanying images taken from the internet, placed in plexi-stands, are there to direct the viewer toward an awareness of the act of browsing, of judging books by their covers.
Thanks to the internet, on top of access to varying physical collections and records, we now have vast amounts of data at our disposal that may or may not be useful, compelling or relevant to the current time and place. When people cite their sources of inspiration, it’s the initial recall from their own knowledge and interests that posits a direction for how they make the contemporary meaningful. I suspect what Alex is doing hints at a larger theme: defending the role of serendipity. Years ago he found the RR, then largely unadvertised, by hanging out in the previous PICA office at Wieden+Kennedy. Now he is directly involved, as participant and creator, in something more transparent, and we hope, more active. What hasn’t changed is how we all react when given the privilege of being with, literally, tens of thousands of pages of artist and art practice material, in one room (which isn’t, strictly speaking, a room, as you probably can tell from the photo, but I digress). When your best course of action is to forgo a search engine and attack the shelves, you’re more likely to find something cool by accident. It’s that intuitive activity - what we do in libraries and bookstores - that interests Alex the most. -WE