In my first two weeks in Denmark I have already visited more museums/exhibitions than I have in the past two years. Over a series of posts I will be sharing some of my drawings from these visits and a written description of the visits. These drawings are my synthesized impressions of the museum/exhibit. They are made after the visit, based on memory, pictures, and brochures taken from the exhibits.
One of the most interesting exhibits I have ever been to this is a semi-permanent exhibit at the Black Diamond Royal Library. This exhibit showcases some of the library most prized collection pieces, known as the library’s treasures. These books are encased in a climate controlled glass room, they are inaccessible to the public.
This exhibit is designed in collaboration with Marina Abramovic, a world famous performance artist. Who, according to the exhibits brochure, is known for her intense, boundary-breaking works that “focus on a profound sense of presence in the here and now”.
This exhibit captures the need to be present for it’s visitors before they even enter the room. Visitors hand over their cell phones, watches, fit bits, etc over to staff to be locked away in so called “technology prisons”. This action starts taking away any sense of time. Staff then hand visitors two sets of keys, one for the technology prison and another for a separate locker for their shoes. Visitors are also given a black iPod nano encased in a block of wood and large, black headphones. Just outside the exhibit room there are small lockers to place your shoes in. This simple series of actions is purposeful. It prepares a visitors mind and body for their upcoming encounter with the treasured text.
Walking through the large, low doors, your eyes slowly adjust to the dim light. The doors are slowly slid shut behind you with a gentle thud. In front of you is the large circular glass case that holds the treasured items. At first you walk in, not entirely sure what to do. Walking up to the glass you can see the books frozen, open to a seemingly random page. A nearby iPad offers a brief description and age of the text before you. If this was all the exhibition offered you would’ve left not caring that you even came. But this is only the first part of the exhibition, the true experience is still to come.
Along the walls of the room are a series of chairs and bunk beds. Each of these rectangular pieces have a clean profile. A thin, grey blanket rest folded on each. Each require some sort of additional action to use, either climbing up or sitting lower than usual. The user has to concentrate more than usual when using it. There are exactly enough places for the number of visitors in the space. All you have to do now is choose your spot.
After settling in to your chosen seat you adjust the headphones over your ears. In my case I chose the top shelf of a bunk bed. My head rests on a carved wooden block pillow, the thin blanket is over my body. After looking through the list of texts, I press play on my iPod and skip to the text I want to listen to. There are over ten hours of audio to choose from so one must be mindful in their choices. A spot light shines brightly on my face, prompting me to close my eyes.
I listened to three different texts: Saxo’s History of Danes from 1200, A Small Book of All Kinds of Illnesses from 1596, and Karen Blixen’s Letters to Her Brother, Thomas, and Mother, Ingeberg, from 1918-1930.
The voices reading the texts sends me off on a drifting thought processes. Swaying between moments of concentration and meditative sleep, I lose all sense of time and place. At some point I jolt awake to the realization that I could fall of the bed if I wasn’t careful as there were no guard rails holding me in. My heart fluttered at the thought but soon enough I was drawn back into the sway.
Then the bell rang. A soft, but clear, sign that the experience was over.
My eyes open. Slowly the room rustles to life. All twenty some visitors refold their blankets and settle back to earth. Walking one more time past the texts we had just listened to with a new sense of appreciation. Leaving the exhibit I had lost almost all sense of time. While putting on my shoes and retrieving my technology I felt dazed. You could’ve told me I’d been in there for 30 minutes or 3 hours. For my classes experience we had been in their for forty five minutes. The usual time is an hour and twenty five minutes.
In quiet whispers we discuss what we listened to and our individual experiences. Someone put in to words how I felt; that relaxed, almost light headed, feeling when you lay down after yoga. Others talked about how they felt stressed and paranoid the whole time, thinking this was going to turn into some sort of social experiment.
This was a truly unique library exhibition experience. For me the magic of the experience came from not knowing what I was walking into. I would highly recommend this to anyone.