This week we feature four photographic projects that attend to the topic of books and permanence. These artists diversely explore how the paper book is lent to considering the disappearance of lifeways, the degradation of material, the discarding of once-evocative objects, and their replacement with imperfect machines.
Think back to a time before kindred literary spirits were primarily the unknown other “Customers Who Bought This Item” on Amazon. Before cozy book clubs moved en masse to blogs, where we have to fend for ourselves in the tea and crumpet departments. These times are probably tucked deep in our childhood, the literature more of the Old Yeller or perhaps Pride and Prejudice varieties than the Fifty Shades. It is this rich world with its frayed cloth-bound volumes and imaginative solitude that Kerry Mansfield evokes in her 2013 series, Expired.
Expired is this week’s most overtly elegiac project. These beautiful objects stimulate nostalgia in spades, laced with a tenderness because we know that they are being trashed. In the same ink that stamped the due dates of yesteryear, librarians now stamp “DISCARD” across pages. Kerry Mansfield’s series encourages us to stay with them for another moment and reflect on their status as orphaned objects. Even in this discarded state, they bloom with meaning.
Expired Artist’s Statement
The first rite of passage upon learning how to write one’s name was to inscribe it on a library check-out card promising the book’s safe journey and return. I remember reading the list of names that had come before me and cradling the feeling that I was a part of this book’s history and it’s shared, communal experience exposed by curly-Q handwritten names revealing repeat customers devouring the book beyond it’s deadline. An act of declaration that’s dissolving faster than we can see as cards are removed permanently and bar codes take their place.
The Japanese term “wabi-sabi” is described as the art of finding beauty in imperfection and of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay and death. But unlike the American culture focused on spectacle, wabi-sabi is underplayed and modest, the kind of undeclared beauty that waits patiently to be discovered. It’s found in time-worn faces of expired library books that have traveled through many hands, and across county lines until they have reached their final resting place at ex-library warehouses where safe harbors are found in Costco-sized rows of “discards” rising within inches of the ceiling.
The volumes documented in “Expired” serve as specimens akin to post-mortem photography in the Victorian Era when family members only received the honor of documentation upon their demise. Each picture serves as an homage calling out palpable echoes etched into the pages by a margin-scrawled note or a yellowed coffee splatter. They show the evidence of everyone that has touched them, because they were well read and well loved. Now they have a new life, as portraits of a unique shared experience found only in a library book. We must take time to celebrate the swiftly disappearing, unique communal experience offered by library books as it’s quickly replaced by downloads and finger swipes. If you listen carefully you can hear the aching poetry calling from tattered pages that carry the burden of their years with dignity and grace.
About Kerry Mansfield
Born in 1974 in New Jersey, Kerry Mansfield graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in photography. Shortly thereafter Kerry returned to CCA (California College of the Arts) to refine her sensibilities for space and volume by studying architecture. The combination of both fields led her back to photography where she has since explored the relationship between space, boundaries and the concept of “home”.
Exhibitions of Kerry’s photographs have been mounted in galleries throughout the United States, Europe, and South America. Her work has garnered several national and international awards including the Lens Culture Single Image Award, First Place International Photography Award in the Fine Art Professional Self-Portrait Category, the Worldwide Photography Gala First Place Storyteller Award and a spot on the Shortlist in the Professional Documentary Portrait category for the 2012 World Photography Organization (WPO) Awards. Learn more about the artist at her website.