Every book has a history.
Not only does each exist as a text – with a history of writing and editing, publication, reception, translation etc. – but each book also exists as an object to be read and handled, passed around, or left forgotten on a dusty library shelf. Just as our minds are shaped by the books we read, so each book bears the traces of its former readers. Within a scientific context, such texts also form the grounds for subsequent research, or they fall out of favour once new paradigms emerge. Popular scientific texts, such as one might expect to discover on the shelves of a local public library, also help to shape the public’s understanding of scientific ideas.
Peer Review explores the transmission of scientific ideas through books in a series of interviews with the community of readers who use St Petersburg Library No. 1. While the project’s original conceit sought to interview the most recent person to have read certain scientific books from the library’s collection, pre-selected by the aritst, what instead took place (due to cultural, linguistic and artistic misinterpretations), was that the librarians instead asked its users to participate in the artistic project by selecting from the pile of pre-selected books.
While the aims of the original project were redirected through the library’s desire to produce the best possible portrait of their community, a portrait of the relationship between people and books and ideas and the library nevertheless emerges in the following series of interviews.
In many ways, the results of decisions taken by the librarians highlights the extent to which the library is not only a repository of information, but also as an active agent in the creation of community, identity, knowledge, and place.
Peer Review was produced as a limited-edition English and Russian chapbook on the occasion of the exhibition In Common at St Petersburg Library No. 1, 29 August – 24 September, 2016.
A pdf copy of the publication is available here for download.
In Common was curated by Miina Hujala and Arttu Merimaa of Alkovi, Helsinki and Andrey Shabanov of Vitrina, St Petersburg.
Peer Review has been made possible by the generous support of the librarians and staff of the St Petersburg Library No. 1.
All images © the artist.
Special thanks to: Angelina Davydova, Anna Bushlanova, Yulia Smirnova, Jan Kajander.