If you’re a certain age, you remember checking out books—smelly, peeling, honest-to-god books—from the library. And if you remember that, you likely also remember the fun in checking the index card in the back of the book, where you’d find the names of every person who’d read the book before you.
Christian Moeller, the German multimedia artist and founder of UCLA’s Design Media Arts program, brings a bit of that romance back to the library with his latest installation, Cloud. Installed this fall in the new library of Dixie College in St. George, Utah, Cloud is a 22-foot-high aluminum shelf filled with 11,840 books—each of which is blank.
Students and professors at Dixie can check out any of hand-dyed tomes, and are free to use them as notebooks, sketchbooks, or diaries for the allotted check-out time. Then, the used books are returned to their given spots in the piece, making it a kind of archive of the work being done by Dixie’s community. The next person to check out that book can add to it as they see fit. "This way generations of students can actively engage with this artwork, it will stay alive and increase its intrinsic value over time," he explains on his website.
It’s curious that Moeller has chosen a desert cloud as the image to replicate in the piece. Is it a commentary on the increasingly immaterial nature of information? According to Utah’s Public Art Program, it is. "[Christian] explains the work as the movement of analog to digital to the cloud," the nonprofit explains. Most of the work in the brand-new library might be done on computers, but in the entryway, visitors are free to participate in a cloud made of plain old paper.
Back in 2010, Moeller installed a similar project in a new library in Los Angeles. But that piece, Shhh . . . Portrait in 12 Volumes of Gray, was mainly superficial, without the participatory element of Cloud. It’s a brilliant and cerebral way to engage people in physical books—even if ultimately, the cloud is the hub of their work.
Images courtesy of Paul Richer.