Between the Senate and the Library: The Art of Books on the Move and in their Place

I just returned to Ohio after spending the last two and half months in Europe. While I felt that I was being rather restrained, I still managed to bring back a small red suitcase worth of books from my travels. I persuaded myself that these books were bought out of necessity, especially for my investigations into documenta 14 (their publications and other books by or about artists in the exhibition). But now, being back home, I am confronted by the sheer number of tomes that didn’t travel with me, starting at me blankly from their home in their shelves (one of which is red like the suitcase, and is called the rojo).

Before I unpack the small red suitcase of new books, I want to spend some time on Minus Plato thinking about how artists explore the tension between books as portable objects, used in certain situations and contexts, and books as static objects, occupying certain specific spaces and locations. This tension was on display in documenta 14, in both Athens and Kassel, and so I will start from there. But I also want to use this topic as a means of getting away from documenta 14, from Europe and back to life in the US. This transition, however, will not merely be one from traveling  to being at home, the portable to the static, but how artists use the book to create some kind of third space. To use two examples from ancient Rome, I am thinking of the spaces generated by Cicero at the beginning of the third book of his philosophical work On Moral Ends and Apuleius in one of his orations (18) in the theater in Carthage, known as the Florida. In the former, Cicero describes Marcus Cato (the younger) in the library of Lucullus ‘surrounded by Stoic works’. This leads Cicero to describe Cato’s voracious appetite for reading and study by telling of how he would read in the Senate House, ‘while the Senate was assembling so as not to intrude on public business’. In the latter, Apuleius is speaking to a gathered audience in a theater, asking, if they find any dignity to what he says, they should imagine they re listening to him in the Carthage Senate House, but if they learn anything from his speech, instead they should imagine they are reading him in the Carthage library. Both Cicero and Apuleius make their texts a third space between the book in its typical home (the library) and the book on the move, in a more provisional location (the Senate House). They both make their readers aware of their own conditions for reading at the same time as offering potential sites and uses for that reading. In short, over the next few days I want to think about the book in contemporary art in a similar way. At the same time, I also want to examine the place of the book in the politics of reading as a way of re-entering an activist phase against the current regime in the US. Being away, hearing about one outrage after another, it felt harder to engage and resist. But now, back on the Ohio battlefield, it is time for Minus Plato to once again become a site, no matter how minor, for protest and resistance.

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