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Library Cards Library Cards

Library cards wood masonite glue
93 x 163 x 6cm
collection: Private Collection



Towards the end of the 1970s I was working in the Department of Art and Design at the Witwatersrand Technical College, which is now part of the University of Johannesburg in Doornfontein. I was appointed the library representative for the department, and it was an arduous task to order books. LIBRARY CARDS belongs to the period when the library converted to a new system for lending books. Everyone's names and personal details were transferred onto computer, making redundant the boxes of library cards that had been used earlier to store this information, and the trays in which they had been kept.

I was doing a lot of work with 'the book' as an underlying theme in the late 1970s. I had made TAFELBOEK and KASBOEK, and almost everything I found conceptually interesting had to do with paper or books. I was also interested in how information was processed and disseminated. Because of this, I was influenced by the writings of Marshall McLuhan, in which he dwelt at great length on pre-alphabetic societies, which relied on the acoustic space of the oral tradition. These were later replaced by the societies that preceded the development of printing. He suggests that at present we live in a linear concept of space, and that we experience space in that way because the lines of books are in parallel.

Another profound concept offered by McLuhan was that if works are low in definition and not easy to decipher, they become highly participational. It is as if he was saying that the more difficult it is to identify something in an artwork, the greater effort you make to solve it in your head. That made a lot of sense to me. McLuhan's influence led to my making many minimalist and abstract works. The pleasure I took in creating them superseded the need for selling them, and I felt in any case that there was very little chance of my finding buyers for any of the works I made at this time.

LIBRARY CARDS was made to commemorate the passing of the old card index method of filing information in the Technical College library, which had been replaced by a computerised version. (This was similar to my motivation for making KYKAFRIKAANS, which marks the passing of the typewriter and the beginning of the computer age.) Since the card system had been used in libraries for more than 100 years, I considered this a good opportunity to pay homage to the difficulty and the tediousness of working with the card-based approach, and to the librarians who upheld it. I admired the way they cared for books, writing down by hand every detail of each volume, and the different card systems they employed to help them find books and re-shelve them correctly. Another detail that interested me was the many trays in which the librarians stored and indexed the various cards they needed to run the library efficiently. I particularly liked the idea of hidden texts, so I placed these cards upside down in the wooden tray to conceal the identities of the card-holders forever.

(transcript from an interview conducted with the artist by W Siebrits, April 2007)



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