Book Stacks – Assignment One
A few weeks ago, while giving a tour of the U of G campus, I ended up getting lost in the library. As I searched for the exit, I ended up in the basement of the library – a place I always found myself too nervous to enter previously. I wandered the space and curiously approached the bookshelves. The basement is home to lots of government publications and periodicals with topics ranging from natural resources to psychological journals to food consumption. I found this collection extremely interesting due to the richness of its history, as well as the feeling of loneliness that accompanied it. The sign-out cards hint that most of this collection of literature has not been touched in years – decades even. For these reasons, I chose to isolate the basement of the library as my first focus for the bookstack assignment.
My process started with finding an area that would be suitable for photos, while also not bothering any students who may be working in the space. After I found a spot to set up, I browsed several shelves of text and picked out titles that I thought sounded interesting. I found it much easier to work with books that had short titles compared to longer titles, so as I returned to the shelves to pick out more books I tried to focus on titles one to three words long.
For the weather component, I found titles that were organized based on season. I find it interesting how seasons and weather are a telling sign of the passage of time, yet also highlight the cyclical nature of time itself. Even the university uses seasons to express the passage of time from one semester to another, while also bringing to light the cyclical nature of a school setting.
The equipment that I used to take my photos included a DSLR camera borrowed from the university, as well as a ringlight that I brought from home. It was fun to play around with the camera settings and lighting, and I think in the end I got several usable photos. I am not very experienced with photography, but as I started to get used to the camera settings I found that my images came out much better than I anticipated. There is certainly a huge learning curve when it comes to using a DSLR in comparison to a simple point-and-shoot camera, but the payoff is very evident.
Stack #1 – Wordplay/Poetry
My first book stack was an attempt at a rhyming poem (?). I chose these books from a large stack of titles I gathered, and just sort of rearranged them until the stack felt readable. I like how the colours ended up being on the cool side, with the exception of the word EVIDENCE. I do find the small text makes this composition difficult to read without zooming in, though.
Stack #2 – Framing
For this composition, I wanted to play around with the lighting and framing to see how these aspects play into or complement a bookstack. How does dramatic lighting communicate the stack when compared to normal lighting? Then, using other books on either side of the stack I attempted to create the illusion of a naturally occurring bookstack – merely found that way on a library shelf. It was fun to play around with these aspects of my photos, but less fun to move all the books around.
Stack #3 – Mood/Atmosphere/Lighting
The title ‘My City Was Gone’ was too haunting in this lonely library basement for me to not pick up. I was trying to avoid a cliche reference to the pandemic and was worried that this stack would read as corny. However, my classmates showed a positive reaction when I presented the images in class, and now I really like them and think they are my most successful shots. I experimented with the lighting and ended up with some very dramatic shots. I am really thankful that I brought lighting because I do not think that my library bookstacks would have been as successful without it.
Library/Camera Comparison – Personal Bookshelf
Stack A – What’s in a Name
This stack is only composed of titles that include a character’s name. Read from top to bottom, the first letter of each name spells out F-A-K-E, as all of these characters are fictitious.
Stack B – Wordplay
This composition was made with the intention of communicating the ‘last words’ as an individual’s final performance.
Stack C – Forecast Pattern
This final composition was made taking inspiration from weather forecast patterns. Using blue/grey book covers to communicate cloudy weather and orange/red book covers to communicate sunny weather, I illustrated a 5-day weather forecast pattern. This was compared to the crochet forecast blankets that have been made by artisans. The titles in this stack are not meant to be important, however, this intention can get lost if a viewer does not already know the meaning behind the stack. In my reshoot, I took this into consideration and made some adjustments to how this stack was shot.
Re-shoot with DSLR
After I was left unsatisfied with the photos of my personal books, I signed out a DSLR and got to work reshooting these stacks.
What’s in a Name
Famous Last Words
While I love the quality of the DSLR photos, I do find them to be a little bit yellow. I think with some editing this could be fixed. I used different positioning and angles for the last bookstack to bring attention away from the titles and focused on the colours. I think this change solved the issue that my first attempt at this stack faced.
Most Successful Shots
Walk in the Arboretum
During the walk in the Arboretum, I really wanted to challenge myself to take high-quality images with my phone camera. I had tried to use the app ProShot for the bookstacks assignment but opted for a DSLR when my photos constantly came out blurry and overexposed. I dedicated this outing to learning how to overcome and correct the issues I was facing, and just hoped that I would come out with something to show for it.
The sky just before it started to rain.
White balance – cloudy vs sunny settings
Taking photos of weeds was my favourite part of the walk. I ended up losing the group fairly quickly as I got distracted taking photos of all the weeds and plants around. I think this experience helped me a lot to experiment with the manual phone camera app and proved to myself that I can take high-quality images just using my phone camera. (Although I do still think DSLRs are irreplaceable to an extent.)
b. 1980, New York City
Jenny Kendler is an ecological artist and activist who is credited with work that focuses on climate change and biodiversity loss. She is passionate about otherness and the de-centring of humans in a more-than-human world – a common theme in the work she produces. Kendler tends to make sculptural representations of thought-provoking ecological subject matter using materials that are reclaimed and repurposed. She has also used organic mediums like bones and fossilized genetic material of endangered species in her work and prompts discussion surrounding extinction and what we currently stand to lose.
Amber Archive (2018-ongoing)
Amber Archive is a project that started in 2018 and is still in progress. The piece is composed of amber nodules that contain a piece of genetic material (fur, leaf, bone, scale, feather, insect wing) of a species that is currently endangered. The piece acts as an analog genetic time capsule that will preserve the DNA of a species for millennia, and outlast cryobanks that rely on energy.
Forget Me Not (2020)
Forget Me Not is a piece that uses a decorated vintage boombox inspired by “Sailor’s Valentines” – elaborate mosaics made using colourful seashells, a popular gift from those returning from sea voyages in the 18th and 19th centuries. “Think of me, when far away” and “forget me not” were popular messages. Kendler’s Forget Me Not is her love letter to the sea as it slowly acidifies due to climate change and the burning of fossil fuels. The boombox plays a tape labelled “soothing ocean sounds” in which the sound of ocean acidification can be heard. Really being played is the sound of the artist’s baby teeth as they dissolve in acid.
Whale Balls (2019-ongoing)
ombre glass, Miocene-era fossilized whale ear bones
1985 moratorium on commercial whaling was finally enacted, but only 5% of humpbacks remained
populations since recovering, but other threats such as commercial shipping noise, fossil fuel seismic exploration and military sonar
Humpback’s unique sonic culture and future survival of species are jeopardized by the acoustic pollution of our oceans.
bells clappers are Miocene Epoch fossilized ear bones: tympanic bullae from an ancient species of rorqual whale related to modern humpbacks
the part of the ear which once received sound, now creates a new fragile resonance, a mournful echo, a ghost knell-suggesting a message from these long extinct whales to today’s endangered whales
Shroud for an Atheist (2020)
digitally printed silk textile, Textile Cone (Conus textile) shell
Conus textile is a species of marine snail with a beautiful patterned shell known as the Textile Cone or Cloth of Gold Cone
they are infact predatory, venomous mollusks with toxins deadly to huans
collage of digital images of the shell’s patterns to create a textile
presented atop a burial mound of sand, likeness of a shroud
whose death are we to lament? – the patterns of Conus textile recall cellular automata
Conway’s Game of Life or Wolfram’s Rule 30
- computational models said to prove that complex design and intelligent organization can arise in the absence of a “designer”
Heirloom (in private collection)
amorphous hydrated silicon oxide – technically a precious gemstone opal
seeds also contain high concentration of carbon-14, making them useful for archeological radiocarbon dating – a valuable technology used by archeologists and paleobotanists to date prehistoric sites – which may be endangered due to the ancient carbon released into the atmosphere where we burn fossil fuels
fear in science community that radiocarbon dating will no longer be viable as early as 2030 – yet another infrequently mentioned threat of climate change
Mending Wall (2021-2024)
collaborative project with the public, Kendler and the Field Museum’s Pandemic Collections Team, with support from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE)
drawing on the American vernacular form of the stone wall – Mending Wall offers a space to honor our collective grief – and share individual hopes and fears in the moment of intersecting crises
global pandemic, gun violence epidemic, the worsening climate crisis, and interrelated struggle for racial justice
piece inspired by Robert Frost’s classic poem, Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea novels and the artist’s childhood visit to the Wailing Wall
25 ft fragment of dry-stacked stone wall made of reclaimed Chicago cobble stone
surrounding wall is natural area of perennial plants and organic stone seating to provide space for contemplation and appreciation of the natural world
wall as something that keeps us apart, as well as how we the people can constitute form, building city stone by stone
public invited to leave a message from this moment of crisis to be archived by the Pandemic Collections team at the Field Museum
Public events held in the space, including guided meditations, dance performances, poetry readings and mending workshops