It was Charlie Macquarie of the excellent Library of Approximate Locations who recommended I visit the Reanimation Library in the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Gowanus. Andrew Beccone is the founder and director of this quirky and beautiful collection, and is both artist and actual librarian.
Reanimation as the title suggests gives new life to books that have fallen out of circulation; apparently outdated or past their usefulness, these are the quirky finds in second hand shops, milk-crates on the footpath, or in decommissioned library collections. But they make great source material for a variety of new purposes and creative projects, their outdatedness demonstrating their virtue as a kind estrangement of the present through the past—equal parts naive, horrifying, and ridiculous. As accidental artifacts, these beauties get to shine again in the arms of the Reanimation Library.
This kind of love is reflected in the way that Andrew describes the library as a ‘presence’. He defines this on the website as “a mistranslation of the German word for reference library, Präsenzbibliothek. In addition to being a non-circulating collection, the library encourages IRL encounters with actual books and actual humans.” The library also references the hybrid impossible creature the Platypus as mascot to the collection—in a collage-like egg laying milk producing monotreme kind of way. (Andrew wrote an excellent essay about this for the library as incubator project.)
The Library grew out of the fact that Andrew is both a Librarian and an artist. He had previously worked at the St Paul Legislative Library in Minnesota, serving mainly elected officials although it was also open to the public. During this time Andrew started using the collection to adapt and repurpose this material. It wasn’t that visually exciting, but he was sparked by a book called the Behavioral Man and in retrospect realised it was somewhat life changing. He asked himself “Why am I not creating my own collection, with my own sourced material.” So for about a year that is essentially what Andrew did, using ‘common knowledge’ a guiding theme for his appropriated and repurposed creations. During this time it was still considered just a personal and private project.
It wasn’t until Andrew was doing his Masters in Library Science that the idea to turn his collection of found sources and book-objects into a publicly accessible collection took hold. “Allowing people to come and do something with this stuff seemed to be a more interesting and necessary next step” It also justified finding a dedicated space for the collection, and enabled opportunities to talk and write about it.
When Andrew stumbled across Proteus Gowanus in late 2005 it not only seemed like an appropriate place to be housed, it prompted a year long curatorial platform on libraries for the entire building. The space functions as a working space for a number of creative outfits, and as Andrew describes it “is a kind of art gallery in a sense, but also presents objects and artifacts and books in a way that felt non-hierarchical in the sense that the text based and artifacts were in dialogue with the art rather than as supplementary support material to the privileged art object.”
Although Andrew founded and runs this collection, it is the possibility of others coming into to do different things with the collection that really make sense of the space. “NYC very much functions on a model of exclusivity”. Including Andrew adds even (and maybe particulary) public institutions. “If you don’t feel comfortable walking into those galleries or public museum spaces then it doesn’t matter if it’s free”.
By the time I made it to NYC, Andrew was in the beginning stages of planning the relocation of the library, a move he has now just completed to its new place at the Queens Museum as part of their 2015 resident artists program.
Although Reanimation has been at the fairly well know artist run space Proteus Gowanus since 2006, it has also had many temporary iterations including at Vox Populi (Philadelphia), SPACE (London), High Desert Test Sites (Joshua Tree), talcual (Mexico City), 98weeks (Beirut), the Museum of Modern Art, the Queens Museum, and Kunsthalle Osnabrück. These iterations are considered branches or spores, extending the circulation of nutrient to be repurposed further afield—just like an excellent compost.
Wishing Andrew all the best with the relocation of the library to its new space—and fingers crossed the spores of the Reanimation Library will eventually reach Australian shores.