Kajsa Dahlberg

Habent sua fata libelli, “Books have their fates.” As Walter Benjamin noted, this Latin saying has another meaning for book collectors: Each physical copy of a book has its own fate. For a project presented in her recent solo show, Kajsa Dahlberg followed the fate of copies of the Swedish translation of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (1929). First published in Sweden in 1958, Ett eget rum has gone through two editions and several printings, although Jane Lundblad’s translation and the page layout of the book have not changed over the years. Dahlberg borrowed the books from hundreds of public libraries across the country and discovered that every copy of Ett eget rum is unique: Notes, doodles, and even a few paper clips left by readers make each copy an original.

Dahlberg captured these anonymous traces by compiling them in her artist’s book Ett eget rum/Tusen bibliotek (A Room of One’s Own/A Thousand Libraries), 2006, which was printed in an edition of one thousand. The book carries Woolf’s text, but on each page the artist painstakingly redrew all the marginalia and underlining found in the library copies. Both a work of drawing and of writing, Dahlberg’s book offers a continuous read of Woolf’s classic with a running collective commentary. While the interest in scribbles inside library books is not new—Christine Würmell’s series “Public Library LA,” 2003, consisting of reproductions of defaced pages in Susan A. Phillips’s Wallbangin’ (1999), stands out—Dahlberg has created a remarkable monument to the public fate of Woolf’s book in the hands of Swedish readers over almost half a century, from 1958 to 2006; this same period saw Sweden become one of the most gender-egalitarian countries in the world.

The annotations have the collective instantaneity of a blog. Page 77, which bears the stamp of the Hässleholm municipal library, includes the remarks “1700-tal: Kvinnor började skriva”(1700s: Women started writing), “1700,” “1700 slut”(End of the 1700s), “28,” and “intertextuality,” along with arrows, x’s, exclamation points, and lines. If one judges from the underlining, the most popular sentence on the page is Woolf’s claim “För mästerverk är inte några enstaka och ensliga alster; de är resultatet av många års gemensamt tänkande, av tänkandet inom hela folkkroppen, så att det är massans erfarenheter, som ligger bakom den ensamma stämmen” (For masterpieces are not single and solitary births; they are the outcome of many years of thinking in common, of thinking by the body of the people, so that the experience of the mass is behind the single voice). Most readers have underlined—Dahlberg draws line over line to reflect each individual notation—as if to emphasize Woolf’s words while inhabiting the spaces between them, like an audience huddling around the author. The book comes to seem like a room in itself, where thousands have come to read, reflect, and discuss with Woolf and others. Some sentences have been underlined so many times that the text becomes almost illegible in Dahlberg’s book.

The exhibition also included the documentary film 20 Minutes (Female Fist), 2005, which conceals as much as it reveals. After putting the cap on her camera lens, Dahlberg filmed a Danish feminist, who describes her film project in Copenhagen—free lesbian porn to be made and enjoyed exclusively by women. Far from seeming prudish, the black screen reflects a secret economy, based on an all-important contract: To obtain the free porn videos, women must agree to share copies only with other women, never with men—a sort of black market, designed to avoid not official regulation but male pleasure.

Jennifer Allen