Meet the Stag Library

The Stag Library is located in Vancouver and run from the private residence of artists Gabriel Saloman and Aja Rose Bond. Although it is currently in hiatus while Gabriel and Aja pursue adventures in other cities/countries, I arrived in Vancouver just in time to catch both of them, surrounded by half packed boxes.

The Stag started as a dream, like all good things. When a flatmate moved out of Aja and Gabriel’s house taking most of the furniture, they made a (difficult) choice to relish the sudden abundance of space and make room for something else. Initially conceived as a gallery plus library space, it then morphed into an artist residency and expanded archive.

They settled on a residency model to do exhibitions and feature underrepresented artists—women, queers, feminists, radical folk, and practitioners both emerging and mid career.

Wanting to occupy an inbetween space, the space was part public part private, relieving them of the pressure typically associated with more formal endeavours, something akin to the unfinished business of a studio plus gallery. Gabriel in particular felt the context of working so much on the contemporary art circuit—doing shows that always felt impersonal or lacking intimacy or meaningfulness—left him desiring a small scale and more locally revelant space.

“It was about creating an interstitial space that would support bringing people into contact. This meant sometimes people who didn’t identify as artists, but who had interesting practices, could be in the same space, in a different context. We wondered what would happen if they were all treated the same.”

This first experiment went for a year, and was mostly promoted through word of mouth and a small email list. Making it small scale and sustainable; relishing the intimacy of a house.

“We were really exploring the currency of hospitality—that really changes the dynamic. We take a risk by opening up our home, and they take a risk by daring to come through this weird side gate to the back of a house, where you are not quite sure isn’t a fucked up place. And you go up the stairs and you’re like “Is this the Stag?”.

A nice little threshold.

Aja points out the depth of care that you can experience at a small local show as opposed to a large anonymous institutional show like a manifesta.

“We had fun comparing the experience of entering a gallery space or institutional space with the courtesy found in a private domestic space. How many times have you walked into a gallery and asked around for the person who owns it to seek them out to say thank you for inviting me to their gallery? Zero.”

Important to the project was no money was exchanged or charged. There was always a stew or wine, or tea, and maybe occasionally a donation jar for the Rescued Chihuahua fund.

When Gabriels parents called and let him know it was time for him to collect things he had been storing at their house, this encouraged another gentle shift in space. The iminent arrival of more books, plus the timing of a french artist couple in residence at the time who were experimenting with databases, provoked a reworking and expansion of the archival space. This phase still maintained the artist residency program, but focussed more on publications and developing printed matter. They also started opening the library space every Sunday from 12-5pm. This ritual ran uninterrupted for three years.

“The other benefit to having the library open was guaranteeing that the house was cleaned. And it was a joyful kind of cleaning, followed by a full half a day to drink tea and converse!”

Minimal promotion was done through a mailing list and a sandwich board on the sidewalk every Sunday. Membership for Stage comes in at a affordable one-off $10 fee. This pool of money was used to purchase new books or replace missing books. Members could borrow up to three books per month.

“I feel like the stag library will continue to exist – but by appointment only. Whereever we move to we will have the library. Our 88 members will still have the privilege of accessing the library. ”

And there have been other iterations, temporary and site-sepcific. Last year, The Stag was installed in Toronto as part of a project at MOCCA. This experiment got them thinking through concepts like domesticity, hospitality, the idea of scale, intimacy, and what it means to be place-based. They collaborated with Toronto based curator cheyanne turions, and the artists Gina Badger and Eric Emery. For this they ran The Stag out of cheyanne and Eric’s apartment.

“To access the project then meant that people had to do it in small numbers and had to go through someones apartment. This was a bit of a test for them, in the sense that it asked them if they are really interested in supporting contemporary art practice—are they willing to do it on the artists terms or are they going to insist that it adheres to the terms of the institution?  In this way the show itself was also a show about institutional critique.”

They are currently talking about doing an iteration in St Petersburg Florida and so are continually thinking how this project can be rendered meangingful elsewhere, without needing to be explicitly based in their house.

Future iterations

For the purposes of the upcoming slow-cooking collaboration planned with The Librarium, I ask the question how would they collaborate with another library another archive, specifically around the presentation model. What would a library collaboration look like?

“Stag has already collaborated with the feminist library in Toronto—The Stag and the Fag. We did an exchange of texts, a shelf of each others works. Also, a friend Jen Harvey who works at McLeods Books as a rare book repairer. When she left to sail around the world she left us a portion of her books and we called it the Jen Harvey wing.”

If you could design the ultimate machine for viewing ephemera, what would it look like?

Gabriel suggests maybe the ultimate machine is a person. “Because that is actually what it takes—a library needs a librarian.” Gabriel describes the experience of being in the library and being triggered by a visitor into grabbing a book in support of an idea.

“Obviously, there are methods of display that definitely work better than others; but in some ways the book is the most efficient machine for presenting ephemera.”

But what about the non-bound?

Aja: I like boxes, I like drawers.

Aja suggests the rug sales – off the wall – imagining a giant concertina book coming off the wall, with plastic pockets – and maybe each sleeve it has an insert with a label.

The Librarium wishes the best as the Stag journey’s into its next stage. Watch this space for the unfolding of a possible collaboration in the near future!

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