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Book Repair Lab: The Jefferson Market Library and the Women's House of Detention, 2019-Ongoing

Site-specific installation, second-hand books, artist’s book

Did you ever find a book in the public library that was missing pages or falling apart at the binding? Books in high circulation often get damaged, and with their damage, information disappears. Book Repair Lab recovers books from the New York Public Library’s Hudson Park and Jefferson Market branches, repairs them at its workstation in the Kellen gallery at The New School, and returns them to circulation at the Rose M. Singer Center (jail) library on Rikers Island. Through this quiet performance of material care, books migrate from a public library to a private university. Although they are different institutions, The New School and the New York Public Library’s local branches have entwined histories in relation to the NYC correctional services. In the 1970s The New School sought to lease the lot at 10 Greenwich Avenue, the site of the Women’s House of Detention, with a plan to raze the prison and to build a new home for their Center for New York City Affairs in its place. The ground floor of this building was to house an extension of the Jefferson Market Library.

This plan never came to pass. While the arrangement would have been mutually beneficial since The New School’s library is modest (its students often depend upon the larger network of libraries available in New York City) the removal of the prison has complex implications for the history of incarceration and queerness in The West Village. Extending this history into the life of books, the libraries that house them, and the people who read them, Book Repair Lab actively works to fulfill the wishlist of books for the library at Rikers Correctional Center compiled individuals incarcerated there.

Commissioned by The New School
Curated and written by Macushla Robinson and Anna Harsanyi, Curators of In the Historical Present, The New School / Parsons School of Design
Photo by Chris Carr

 
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Book Repair Lab: From The New School (left top) and Book Repair Lab: From the Jefferson Market Library (right bottom), Artist books (artist essays and archival materials), 217 pages, 2019

I was in jail in New York… And one of the first places I went, I was able to go, in the jail was the library, and I didn’t see very many interesting books there, all right? ...so what I did was I had people send books to me when I was there, and I wanted to share those books with all of the other women, there was something like a thousand women there. I was not allowed to do that.…so we had these clandestine reading groups…and it kind of reminded me of Frederick Douglass and Frederick Douglass’s effort to get an education, to learn how to read, and his idea that education really was liberation. – Literary, Libraries, and Liberation (2010), Angela Davis in conversation with Toni Morrison

 
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Book Repair Lab: Archiving Relations, 2019

As part of the project, the Lab held the workshop, Archiving Relations. Archiving Relations is inspired by artist Alex Martinis Roe’s project To Become Two: Propositions for Feminist Collective Practice (in collaboration with feminist scholar Lindsey Grace Weber). Book Repair Lab reinvents the artist’s proposition as a workshop that seeks archival justice in relation to feminist and prison abolitionist movements in the US. Archiving Relations consists of three sections: the first draws out the history of feminist archives, prison systems, and social justice movements. The second comprises performative exercises and creates a space for communal learning and mutual empathy. The third involves archival practice, recording shared stories, experiences, and exercises which can become resources for a justice toolkit for the future.

Special thanks to the guest speakers, Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz (Archivist at the Lesbian Herstory Archives and Assistant Professor and Head of Reference at the Graduate Center Library, CUNY) and Sasha Jones (NYPL librarian at Roosevelt Island and Rikers Island Facilities)

 
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