The Library of Babel / In and out of Place

176 Zabludowicz Collection
176 Prince of Wales Road
London NW5 3PT

176 has transformed into a condensed ‘universe’ of recent Art History that has fallen out of its storerooms.

There is no fluid reading and understanding of what is being shown and the curator of the concept for ‘The Library of Babel’ invites the audience to respond to and interact with the works on show and create their own meaning from it.

The Salon style hang could be interpreted as a jumble of works with no direction, every media you name it, all is closely hung with little or no coherence apparent, and one can’t see the wood for the trees. Yet I am intrigued to investigate further.

The haphazard grouping of over 200 contemporary works is a deliberate strategy in Anna-Catharina Gebbers curatorial practise. The curator only exists as the originator of the idea and then let’s the viewer do the work of selecting and interpreting from a buffet of works as diverse as the imaginations of 200 contemporary artists is wide.

Comprising 10% of the Zabudowicz Collection this loosly chaotic arrangement is less of a visual feast but has the potential for exploration. In a jumble sale, you get rewarded for your efforts at exploration by maybe picking up a bargain. Here at 176, the reward for exploring is the personal gratification of being able to piece together some kind of sense with the help and knowledge of contemporary art history one has picked up on the way in one’s involvement in the art.

So I found myself revisiting some of the works and discovering new ones by individually studying them more closely. This type of buffet show does prompt the following questions: Why should we have an
exhibition all arranged and served on a plate anyway? And why do we
visit exhibitions? Here at the Library of Babel a new trust – rightly or wrongly- has been placed to the power of the viewer’s visual literacy. Each week we are invited to take the lead in interpreting the exhibition by guiding a tour of works that have particular significance for us.

Borges in the Story of the Library of Babel elegantly construes a universe of images for us on the pages. A possible infinity of hexagonal galleries, 20 shelves each and so he goes on to mathematically describes for us , a scaffolding for an idea of infinity and the search for an absolute for the reader to actively get involved in. He gives us space to interweave with our imagination. Borges could have just given us a jumble of words and invited us to get on with it. But his craft as a writer helped us enjoy the process of understanding the infinite possible combinations for creating meaning in context with the material of language. His message being that only by actively collating and understanding knowingly, do we create meaning.

… So, with this in mind, what am I to make of a juxtaposition of Araki’s woman in ropes next to a print of an oversized garlic and cabbage leaf?

On the one hand this exhibition provides a refreshing and positive challenge to the many filters on the way we access imagery today. On the other the curator Anna-Catharina Gebber who in this case has removed herself from the decision making process provides less of her direct expertise and knowledge for us to build on, but instead is interested in how we, the participant, decide what we like and why.

The original intentions of the artists are out of context and it seems to me , are nullified in this multifarious array of the diverse art practices on show. This seemingly illogical juxtaposing of works strips all preconceived ideas attached to the individual works and who knows, will, inspire for new relationships amongst works and open the doors for re- interpretation. Artists included in the show have been invited to lead tours and for dates check the listings on 176.

Borges Library in which we find all possible combination of books, but where the books no longer have any meaning in themselves and no one expects to discover anything new, ‘for the library is unlimited and cyclical’.
Comparably at 176’s Library of Babel every conceivable medium for art making is on show and it is up to us the viewer to reconstruct a different kind of order and personal meaning. Borges Story is a challenge anytime and here translated to the project and gallery space it offers much scope for participation.
I recommend to go and see it and to join in and attend the forthcoming talks and lectures which promise to be very interesting.

In my paperback Penguin, Borges adds at the end of his story this comment by Letizia Alvarez de Toledo: ‘Who has observed that this vast Library is useless: rigorously speaking, a single volume would be sufficient, a volume of ordinary format, printed in nine or ten point type containing an infinite number of infinitely thin leaves. In the early seventeenth century, Cavalieri said that all solid bodies are the superimposition of an infinite number of planes. The handling of this silky vade mecum would not be convenient: each apparent page would unfold into another analogous one; the inconceivable middle page would have to reverse.’

Nam June Paik
Beethoven 2001, Two channel video sculpture, with four monitors, audio and radio casings, neon, clock and various objects.
‘This is one of my favorites in the show!’

Anna-Catherina Gebbers website:

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