Clegg & Guttmann

BOOKS LINED UP on shelves can elicit strong emotions. There is the desire to know and the pleasure of availing oneself of a cultural accumulation that has already taken place. The idea that one need only extend a hand to delve into all sorts of histories, arguments, and romances offers great stimulation as well as solace. Libraries both private and public—and bookstores too—electrify and at the same time intimidate. At any moment one can encounter the mind of a writer from any epoch. This is comforting, but it also gives cause for uncertainty, as the effort required of the individual reader can seem immense. Yet there is also reassurance that human knowledge will not disperse, and this consoles us, makes us feel less alone.

In the exhibition “Falsa Prospettiva: Reflections on Claustrophobia, Paranoia and Conspiracy Theory,” Michael Clegg and Martin Guttmann showed that they've grasped the significance of the library for the imagination and made from it a visual architecture that resonates beyond the space and time of the gallery. A sequence of photographs of shelves full of books, in a double row, created the illusion of a real bookstore. One could take great satisfaction in the aesthetic beauty of all these spines, all these names in different characters and colors. all these topics that conjure up the power of the intelligence of our species. The sensation of truly being in a library only increased, gradually, as one walked between the two rows of “shelves.” And when one turned to retrace this path “paved with books,” it became clear that the floor of the gallery had been raised at an angle to create the illusion of a much deeper space. This accelerated perspective is a device typical of set design, but one also encountered in cities, in the facades of Italian Baroque palazzi.

This dedication to Italian art was coupled with another designation Clegg & Guttmann have given to their shelves: “Knowledge Sculpture.” They were evoking painting and perspective, reality and imagination, visual memory and marginalia. In fact, the sequence of the photos was thematic, ranging from geometry to religion by way of architecture, psychoanalysis, linguistics, and politics. The books had been photographed in Milan, New York, Berlin, and elsewhere, but the images were recomposed to create a new totality. While ideas can only be found and become visible in some specific setting, they change location and time depending on the wandering thoughts of the minds that read them, Moreover, by creating this fiction of a single library out of many, Clegg & Guttmann evoked a sense of mixing, of impurity, that is in tune with contemporary sensibilities, with our need to keep going back to the libraries that each of us has organized in our own homes and heads. It therefore served to remind us of a perspective that is physical if also illusory—one specific to reading.

Francesca Pasini

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore