Libraries as gardens

Libraries as Gardens is a sound project that wants to geolocate and map on a global scale the before, during, and after of the coronavirus lockdown, through people’s stories told and read in their personal libraries during quarantine and through their memories of public gardens. The recordings are simultaneously relayed in an augmented audio project, creating sound walks for the future, when the gardens open again, and available for all their walkers.

The project asks readers around the world to collaborate with two voice recordings (reading aloud) and a photograph in their personal library or reading space, to be made before the end of June 2020. To participate with your stories, you don’t even need a recording device. You can easily contribute and record with the tools on the website, with just a few clicks and in minutes, submitting two recordings:

  • a memory or a story about a public garden + its address
  • reading a short text at home, without reading immediately, but with a minute of “silence”/ambient sounds from your reading space before reading aloud

The files can be sent via the online form or by e-mail.

Libraries as gardens will become a web map, an augmented audio project, creating sound walks in the different cities and towns where your contributions come from. It anticipates the moment when people will be able to walk and enjoy public gardens again, and uses a CGeomap mobile application for walking, hearing, and reading all the shared stories and readings.

CGeomap is an open-source digital platform for Geo-Storytelling, allowing the simultaneous creation of multiple spatial narratives. The concept of CGeomap is based on collaborative online creation and it can be a tool of connection with the Earth in our time of global crisis.

Libraries as Gardens is an ongoing collective project, curated by Belgian librarian, writer, and artist Geert Vermeire, and was launched at the Analogio Performance Arts Festival in Athens in 2018. It explores how gardens and libraries overlap, departing from the divide between inside/outside, and involves walking, writing, and site-specific practices. In the initial project, a group of international artists researched artistically how gardens and their trees can become libraries in the public spaces of Athens. It was complemented with an exhibition in TAF – The Art Foundation.

Buildings are to human beings as gardens are to trees. Gardens are places to walk and look, but not to live. How could a garden and its trees become a library? How can humans and trees interact in a garden? How can a garden become productive for the mind?

The project is developed around human connections and the relation between text and (indoor/outdoor) space. From that perspective, a library is seen as a garden, and a garden as a library. Moreover, the two spaces overlap in our minds, since a garden exists as much in our minds as in the physical world, and to be in a garden is also to be in our heads and imagination.

Library of Walks

It is reminiscent of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, which depicts a future society where books are forbidden, and the protagonists become walking books (by learning them by heart). In this way, we could say that we are all walking libraries, carrying in us the books that are dear to us.

To be in a library is at the same time to transcend its time and space, to be in two spaces at once, both inside and outside. This feeling is expressed in the painting of San Girolamo nello studio (Antonello da Messina), where a library/writer’s studio is depicted as existing both inside and outside at the same time – a library with birds. In that sense, a garden is also a library, containing nature’s knowledge. Walking is eventually what connects mind and space, bringing the inside and the outside together, in both directions: walking moves space inwards, and walking moves the mind outwards.

During his 18-month residency in the Brazilian capital Brasilia, Geert Vermeire established a long-term dialogue between the National Library and the National Museum, employing augmented technologies, locative media, and artistic-performative practices of writing and reading inside public spaces. These activities lead to a symposium and series of exhibitions in the National Library and National Museum and an augmented reality installation bringing a virtual garden with texts inside the International Book Fair of Brasilia. The residency was completed with the installation in the Botanical Garden of Brasilia of a “Library of Walks”, a wooden library around a tree, shelving dozens of labelled glass jars with memories of walks.

The Library of Walks began as an artistic trajectory by the Belgian artist Stefaan van Biesen in the 1990s. In 2003, he was joined by Geert Vermeire to undertake their first group walk together to read a forest as a library, during the Art Biennale Beeldig Hof ter Saksen in Beveren in Belgium. Their approach expanded in the years afterwards, with collaborative texts, a corpus of letters to each other, works of art and performances, and continues to this day. In a parallel and convergent way, they develop the concept of archiving walks into projects that transform outdoor spaces into libraries, suggesting new ways of reading the landscape and rewriting it. Equally, they are transforming indoor libraries into augmented spaces, uniting sound and silence, outside and inside, the mental and the physical, knowledge and nature, and creating local and global networks of people. Their works unfold around human connections, text and space, resulting in works of arts, site-specific interventions, locative media, and creative walks engaging with both the landscape and those walking through it.

Library walks in Serralves Garden

In the last decade, they have used the medium of locative technologies, intertwining the digital with alternative ways of knowing and connecting, relating to intuition and the senses. Alongside people walking in and around libraries or a landscape perceived as a library – in silent or sensorial walks – they have collected digital traces, recordings, and other media that make a living archive of people’s movements, a digital library of walks.

In the early 2010s, Vermeire was already exploring the potential of spatial and locative writing as a team member of noTours. He is now building on this creative interest by joining the CGeomap collective. He made his first project Ecumenopolis in Sao Paulo in 2019, which explores and overlays silences and sounds, inside and around major libraries around the world (Sao Paulo, London, Athens, Moscow).

With this new project – Libraries as Gardens – Vermeire looks into the potential of collective creation and imagination to connect us in alternative and deeper ways during the COVID-19 pandemic Click To Tweet

growing words

With this new project – Libraries as Gardens – Vermeire looks into the potential of collective creation and imagination to connect us in alternative and deeper ways during the COVID-19 pandemic. He invites all creatives to examine how their personal libraries can transform into gardens through mind-walking and memories of the now forbidden public gardens. He encourages us all towards alternative perspectives of our world’s future, nature, and libraries.

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