A few weeks ago, as a part of a professional project, I was asked to come to the apartment of a wealthy young woman who lived in a luxury high rise far above the noise of the large city whose postal address she claimed. On the floor in the corner of her living room, stretching up at least seven feet, was a pile of books, stacked carefully in a twisting pattern like the turtles under the command of King Yertle. I think she meant to display the pile of books as a sign of her combination of literacy and original design sensibility. The impression that I got, however, was that this woman didn’t truly care for her books, because her placement of them in such a high stack made it extremely difficult for anybody to pick up one of the books and look through it for a passage of insight or information.
I was reminded of this illiterate stacking when I came across a piece of work by the Dutch conceptual artist Job Koelewijn this morning. Koelewijn built a bookcase in the shape of the symbol for infinity, and explained the meaning of the work by writing the following statement: “In the beginning was the word, the written word is unto eternity. A bookcase in the form of a lemniscate (the mathematical sign for infinity), full of books, words, shows the cycle of art. The way in which artworks endure, sometimes concealed, sometimes at eye level, close enough to touch, then forgotten for years, pushed away behind other books. The eternal performance of art. The public constantly changes in age and era. The words remain the same, and yet what is read changes from one age to the next.”
My interpretation is different. Only someone who values a visual pose over the rich linguistic content of written language would construct a bookcase of this design, which, for the sake of aesthetics, places a significant number of books in a place where they are extremely difficult to reach, and almost impossible to identify, beyond the general sense that they appear to be, in fact, books.
This piece of conceptual art is conceptually stunted, going only a short distance beyond the statement of a person who buys Reader’s Digest condensed editions to place on their shelves to add a sense of refinement to their knick knacks.