Today the Library as Incubator Project features the Artist in Residence at the Library of the University of Technology, Sydney, visual designer and artist Chris Gaul. Chris answered our questions about some projects he is doing as part of his library residency. – Laura

How do you identify yourself as an artist (poet, fiction writer, painter, photographer, etc.), and what sort of work do you create?

I work as a visual designer and artist and am interested in how the design of simple everyday objects—things like bus tickets or library cards—can create moments of playfulness and discovery in daily life. I’m Artist in Residence at the Library of the University of Technology, Sydney from March until August this year.

Tell us the story of a specific project that was incubated by a library– how did it start, and how did the library help to bring it to life? What role did the library play in the process of creating or promoting your work?

Library Tuner, a work-in-progress that lets listeners ‘tune in’ to Dewey frequencies.

Spending time in the library as Artist in Residence has generated a lot of ideas. Book Babble is a proposed artwork that lets listeners wear a pair of headphones and wander the library listening to books reading themselves aloud. The headphones are connected to an RFID reader and a mobile device. The RFID reader senses nearby books, and the mobile app finds the content of those books and reads them into the headphones. As the listener wanders through different parts of the library, the tone of the babble drifts through different subjects. There are some technical challenges with this idea, so in the meantime I’m working on some others. One is to repurpose a vintage hi-fi tuner so that listeners can turn the dial to tune in to the different Dewey ‘frequencies’ of books in the library. Another involves repurposing a vintage rotary telephone so that listeners can use the call numbers of books to call the books on the telephone.

Not all of the ideas have been this technically complex. One idea simply involves re-labelling the return chutes.

Currently borrowers return books through one of three chutes based on the call number of the book. Replacing these Dewey number labels with new labels (for example: ‘I loved this book’, or even ‘I didn’t like this book’, or ‘I didn’t read this book’) not only gives the borrower a moment to reflect on their reading experience but also provides the library with valuable data. For example, it would be straightforward to create a shelf of recent returns that the last reader loved. This is an example of how services in libraries can be redesigned to be less narrowly focused on efficiency and more on playfulness and discovery.

What can libraries do to serve artists like you?

Artists and libraries can help each other. Artists can find intuitive, creative ways for people to understand library collections and services. Having an Artist In Residence focused on exploring creative interpretations of the library is a great way to do this. It also gives artists the tools and space to produce interesting work. The UTS Library founded the program this year. I’m the first, and happen to be a designer and visual artist, but they have a broad definition of ‘artist’ that could include writers, performers, musicians, or anyone who might explore creative ways of discovering and understanding the library and its collections.

As an artist, what would your ideal library be like? What sorts of things would you be able to do there? What kinds of stuff would it collect?

My ideal library would have the ethos of Willy Wonka’s factory: an intuitive and imaginative place that encourages curiosity, playfulness and is full of unexpected surprises. It would provide many ways of discovering, not only the traditional computer catalogue and Dewey call numbers.

What does “library as incubator” mean to you?

‘Library as incubator’ suggests a place that encourages everyone who visits to be creative, curious and thoughtful. It also suggests that libraries are incubators of moments of insight. These moments of insight require a wandering, curious disposition and art can be a very useful tool for encouraging this frame of mind.

Chris Gaul explores the potential for art and design to create moments of mindfulness and discovery in everyday life. He studied Visual Communication Design and International Studies at UTS, works as an artist and visual designer, and teaches in the UTS School of Design. His work has been exhibited at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Brooklyn Museum in New York and work from his recent project The Art of Everyday Things was exhibited as part of Sydney Design 2011. To learn more about Chris and to follow his residency at UTS, visit his website or follow him on Twitter.

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