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Posts tagged ‘order’

HomeShop opened its library
to the public this summer. Although its collection comprises “not-yet 10,000 items,” the moment had already arrived for questions about the content, triggering a conversation that I joined the other day in HomeShop’s front space, on the issues of inclusion and exclusion.

As the library grows mostly through donations from friends and neighbors, certain patterns gradually emerge: all the books someone couldn’t take with them, some flea market novelties, something that “might come in handy.” To host anything, or hypothetically everything, would mean all the “bad” as well. Bad in the case of a library means the superfluous, the unhelpful, maybe the hateful; from another perspective, one never knows who will value what in a public library, and cutting away the inessential means cutting away part of a potential public. The central ambiguity of any archive lies on these fissures between values. This is also dependent on the reality of passing time, by which bad qualities are outlasted as a generation shifts and becomes other to itself; however, this process is most apparent in archives proper as opposed to libraries (who, in the future, will honestly cherish all of the pulp novels as books, as opposed to documents? Or do they, even at present?). One can then imagine, as did Jorge Luis Borges, a Babylonian library comprising all that was and is, in effect re-constructing the universe in type, a disorienting and endless universe in which we all dwell.

But of course other hard realities emerge to rebut this imaginary, unlimited possibility: space and order. HomeShop’s shelves are small, but not yet full. The intention of our conversation to edit the inventory—resulting, ironically, in only one or two withdrawals—therefore compromised on a discussion of what inclusion and exclusion mean. As an independent project initiated by individuals (namely, Fotini Lazaridou-Hatzigoga and Elaine W. Ho), whose nurturing is guided by particular investments rather than indifference, the HomeShop Library recalls Walter Benjamin’s words: “But one thing should be noted: the phenomenon of collecting loses its meaning as it loses its personal owner. Even though public collections may be less objectionable socially and more useful academically than private collections, the objects get their due only in the latter.”(1) But with its simple principle of acquisition and circulation based on personal relations, the HomeShop collection becomes a living and metabolic portrait of a community, complicating the possessive fondness of Benjamin’s ideal bourgeois collector.

The ordering methodology can be recognized as not as rigid or as rigorous as that of Beijing’s National Library of China, though it shares the Chinese Library Classification system’s categorizations (starting, of course, with Marx & Mao, passing next through religion and philosophy, proceeding to the hard sciences at the bottom/base). But where the State institution speaks the language of publicness with its vast architectural spaces and purportedly unparalleled collection, the State’s very ordering protocols eliminate even the imaginary possibility of housing the universe on its shelves, where this could at least be a fantasy in HomeShop’s case. (A review of the oddities in the not unimpressive foreign languages section at the National Library is enough to wonder what is the basis for their acquisitions; recommendations are not invited, I was told.) The universe, after all, is composed of many, many small and particular things, not just the mapped planets and giant balls of gas. Even without space, attentiveness and affect define an alternative order of ordering. As the Indian archival project Pad.ma points out: “To not wait for the archive is often a practical response to the absence of archives or organized collections in many parts of the world. It also suggests that to wait for the state archive, or to otherwise wait to be archived, may not be a healthy option.”(2)

One pertinent irony of our contemporary media-saturated world is the State’s inability to accommodate the histories that make up the most intimate (ie. unofficial) parts of people’s lives, which actually make up the majority of all stories. But is the ambition of the (art) project to recover all lost histories, to pursue the exhaustion of this chaotic universe on its shelves? And do we hope that the State eventually takes up the pursuit of accounting for this breadth of experience? But isn’t it true that they already do to some extent, through the surveillance of all of our movements and stockpiling of all of our utterances? The gap exposed is therefore not the abyss of quantities, but the ground on which qualities are encouraged to develop. HomeShop’s library, emphasizing the knowledge and feeling that flow from individuals and can be borrowed—social exchanges, that is to say—hosts a potential to reflect the library as a universe despite or rather because of its modesty, its ethics-under-development. That said, at the end of our afternoon crusade of book-purging, we finally had to put off the decision of what to cut, until some other moment in the future.

Michael Eddy

The HomeShop Library is open daily for browsing and for borrowing. Please come by.

(A Chinese version of this text to appear in upcoming issue of Yishu Shijie Magazine / 中国版的这段文字会出现在“艺术世界”杂志。)

1. Walter Benjamin, “Unpacking my library” in Illuminations
2. From Pad.ma’s “10 Theses on the Archive.” Visit Pad.ma’s alternative video archive: http://pad.ma/

(image is from 黄伟凯 HUANG Wei Kai’s documentary Disorder)

There are things that can or should be controlled and other that can’t or shouldn’t or who cares?

Here is a topic that has been floating into my mind for a while, and that I’d like to start as a project. Ideally it would be great to have feedbacks from cities all over the world, but let’s be modest for now and see how it works.
Recent rumors about demolition in Gulou made me think  about the balance between order and disorder that shapes every city. The Gulou project is yet another proof that Beijing authorities want the city to be ordered. And commercial development is a way to achieve this. I do think that order is necessary to make things work, but isn’t too much order a way of ruining urban potential? Take Nanluoguxiang: at the beginning it was an interesting initiative, because the general process of ordering the city somehow created the conditions that allowed individual initiatives: Passby bar, and the followings. That street stayed for a couple of years in a subtle balance between order and disorder. But now it has clearly taken the way of (commercial) order, therefore killing individual’s initiative rather than creating new opportunities.
But what is order, and disorder? How is it defined, by whom and for which reasons?
I have chosen some quotes, coming from interviews or simple conversations, about the order/disorder couple:

  1. “In Beijing, you can encounter every kind of person, every kind of situation. In Western cities, everything is nice, you can’t see this mess. But it’s a creative mess.”
  2. “Sometimes, I really need to escape from Beijing. here everything is controlled. I like to go to smaller cities, there you can drink beer on the streets, everyone is outside eating chuan’r. I like that.” And a little later, in the same conversation, he told me in a very disregarding way that people in smaller cities aren’t civilized at all. But isn’t it part of the same process? It seems that in beijing, being civilized means not to eat chuan’r on the sidewalks.
  3. “London is very oppressive. I really don’t like it. It is supposed to be one of the most creative cities, but here everything is well planned, there are cameras and CCTV everywhere, there is no disorder, and I find it quite disturbing. Look at Tel Aviv, there is much more disorder, people don’t care that much.”
  4. “One of the things that I wanted to do, (but then the green revolution started, so I couldn’t), was to go around without head scarf and have friends film me. I don’t know how people would react. Maybe they would say something, disapprove. After more than 30 years of being ruled by religious law, people have integrated these values. But at the same time, women would be very happy to get rid of that scarf.” So people are negotiating their own being incoherent, between what you consider that should be ordered and what could be your own disorder.

I do think that every city has its own way of managing order/disorder. But I would be curious to explore these different ways of defining it and see also how they allow, or not, individuals to have initiatives. What kinds of order/disorder do we need to be stimulated, structure our urban life?

…to be continued