Berkeley Public Library, Berkeley CA
February – April 2013
An installation of two hundred thirty five altered books soaring some seventy five feet in the atrium of Berkeley’s Central Library
“Flights of Mind” was, and is, about possibility and community across space and time.
When I read I encounter another in a particular intimacy. Bringing authors’ stories, imaginings and perspectives inside me expands and deepens the interior space that defines my world. I’m constrained in who I can be and what I can accomplish only by the limits of my imagination, the scale and wherewithal of my vision. Reading reaches out into possibility and brings it into my reality.
Engaging with authors touches, shapes and informs who we are. Our hearts are enlivened by words coming to us across the years, decades and centuries, fresh and meaningful, as though they were written today. Our worlds are enlarged by words coming to us across cultures, languages, points of view, and life experiences. In reading we are a community in earnest conversation about what matters in life, a conversation that knits us together in a precious commonality.
And this place, Berkeley Public Library…. It’s a place about our affirming, enabling, and encouraging this vast conversation. A place about enriching who we are as individuals and as a community.
“Flights of Mind” celebrates possibility and community across space and time.
The installation was comprised of about two hundred twenty five constituent parts suspended from a handful of heavy anchor lines, lines that together established its basic shape and orientation. The constituent parts—books whose pages had been folded—hung at a range of distances from their supporting cables and anchor lines, from fifteen feet to four inches and everything between. The books varied in subject, language, and color, as well as pitch and yaw. Not one was in perfect condition. All showed evidence of having been out in the world—worn, frayed, some beat-up and patched. Each slowly turned, independent of the others, a subtle interplay between its particular physical characteristics and its immediate context. That is, an interplay between the ply and length of its thread, the pitch and yaw of its covers, and its weight, on the one hand, and the wake of library patrons’ movements, the updraft from a sun-drenched wall, and the intrusion of weather through the front door, on the other.
While the installation was an integrated whole, there was no vantage point from which it was fully visible. The piece swooped, turned and disappeared as it slipped through the oculus and reached out into the space beyond. Only by way of the viewer moving through the spaces of the library did the installation fully reveal its shape, scale and orientation.
There was pervasive movement: the independent movement of constituent parts, the movement of library patrons, the viewer’s movement following the piece’s visual invitation to see more, and the piece’s overall sense of movement. And there was bidirectional movement: The work descended from the sky outside the great window into the atrium, dove through the oculus and reached into the library’s depths. AND, the work moved from the heart of the library, at circulation, rushed up through the oculus, and hurled itself through the atrium and then skyward. It could not be only one direction or the other, but had to be both, coming and going, bringing and taking.
“Flights of Mind” was a temporary installation. Certain conditions came along and there it was, a dynamic and vulnerable presence dependent on the protection of a big sturdy building, social convention, and Library rules. It was gone seven weeks later, leaving no physical evidence, only traces in some people’s minds that may manifest someday in ways that won’t be recognizable as related to this piece.
I’m grateful to the many friends and family who helped me realize and document the installation, and the individuals associated with the Library who supported the project.
Installation Right Hand ~ Nancy Saldich
Videography ~ Kellock Welsh Irvin
Jan Camp saw the possibility before I did, and enabled a critical early stage of the project.
My de-installation crew saved the day: Michelle Bertho-Huidal, Andrew Chen, Rona Renner, Nancy Saldich, Tyrell Collins, Bob Conway and John Wood
At Berkeley Public Library, Doug Smith, BPL Deputy Director, championed the project, offering invaluable guidance and support. Steve Douglas met my steady stream of non-normative requests with friendliness, generosity and equanimity. Raymond Dai was equally unruffled and helpful in the face of repeated special requests. Debbie Carton, Linda Sakamoto-Jahnke and Andrea Mullarkey contributed substantively to my research and documentation. Jim Novosel, Sayre Van Young and Diane Davenport also enriched my research.
This flight of my mind could not have become a reality without the enthusiastic support of Sophie Hahn and Barbara Manierre, BPLF board members; Marjorie Randell-Silver, Event Coordinator of the BPLF’s Authors Dinner; and Donna Corbeil, BPL Director.
Over the many months during which I researched, planned, and installed the project I was met with unqualified friendliness, interest and encouragement from librarians, security personnel, custodians, IT personnel and other staff. What a pleasure to work with you and in your presence!
Finally, and most importantly, having observed library patrons’ engagement with the installation over its seven weeks … such generosity. I am deeply moved, and am indelibly marked.
My heartfelt thanks to all. There are no words expansive enough to express the full depth and breadth of my gratitude for the opportunity to realize this project.
Sponsored by the Berkeley Public Library Foundation, the piece was created for the Foundation’s 11th Annual Authors Dinner, hosted by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman.