Exploring the Great Unread Books of the World at SPACES


How many books do you have at home sitting on shelves, remaining unread? Think of all the books in all the world's libraries and bookstores that will never be read by you — or possibly anyone. As the publishing industry adapts to digital trends, it is possible that there are some books on this planet that may sit unread forever. These types of thoughts inspired Brooklyn-based Ward Shelley's current residency at SPACES and his exhibit, The Last Library.

SPACES hosts a free opening reception for its latest trio of new exhibitions this Friday from 6 to 9 p.m.

Shelley is SPACES' current SWAP (SPACES World Artists Program) resident artist. Shelley earned his MA from NYU, after receiving a BFA from Eckerd College. His work has been exhibited in more than 10 countries. Before and during his art career, Shelley has also dabbled in advertising, theater, teaching, construction, special events, rock bands and built a 37-foot sailing sloop.

"SPACES often serves as a platform through which artists can pursue an idea that they may not have been able to execute otherwise," explains SPACES executive director Christina Vassallo. "Ward was invited into the SWAP residency over a year ago, and that kind of planning timeline allows for an enormous and demanding project like The Last Library to be presented in a thoughtful way. We think The Last Library is extremely relevant and can be translated into many different contexts."

Reflecting on the past year, she continues, "All of our SWAP projects this year have functioned, in some way, as a portrait of this city. Andy Curlowe re-imagined Cleveland as a mountain range. Chloe Bass chronicled her time spent with Clevelanders. Next quarter, Anna Viola Hallberg will explore political containment in the city. Now, Ward is drawing from conversations that he's been having during his two-month residency and accepting book titles from people he's met, to present a timely civic portrait in the form of a library that is full of our thoughts, pre-occupations and hopes."

During his residency, which began June 24, Shelley has transformed SPACES into The Last Library, an immersive installation of roughly 4,500 "books yet to be written (or read)." The "books" are wood tiles covered with special labeling to resemble the spines of books. While the "books" cannot be read, the titles can (and should) be studied carefully. They are thoughtfully arranged on their "shelves," similar to other libraries. Most of the titles were created by Shelley and his collaborators, but Shelley has invited the public to submit their own titles as well.

"Our library is like 4,500 points of view," offers Shelley. "That is what a culture is, when you think about it: a collection of people's points of view, mostly held in common, but not without some disagreement. We are thinking about the library as a snapshot portrait of Cleveland today, or an improvised cultural moment. I wouldn't claim that it is the definitive portrait; it is just a snapshot from one angle. And we thought it was fitting to have these points of view, this culture, as book titles because books have been an official carrier of our culture for the last 500 years — though that may be changing."

Shelley offered a "Top 10" list of his favorite fictional titles so far: The Cat Lover's Cookbook; 1,000 Unused Baby Names; 12 New Sex Positions For Unmarried Religious Couples; Soul Dust Clogs Your Humours; Hating Yourself Thin; Fossil Fuel Barbecue; Trump Eats Cruz' Lunch; Your Identity Politics Fucked My Wife; Deporting the Ones You Don't Like; and Why Zombies, Why Now?

This ambitious installation completely transforms the exhibition space. Combining intimate viewing areas with tall walls densely packed with visual information manifests an immersive, almost overwhelming sensation. The construction creates an enveloping world for one to get lost in. Like a "real" library or bookstore, visitors could spend hours skimming through the stacks. However, when you find an interesting title, your imagination must fill in the nonexistent pages.

So just how big is this installation? If you spent just two seconds reading each title, it would take you roughly two and a half hours to read to the estimated 4,500 titles.

"The idea of the demise of the book is just a placeholder for the demise of real knowledge," reveals SPACES residency coordinator Bruce Edwards. "We have stepped into a realm where we can find information so easily that we don't even think about remembering it or following the thought to a deeper conclusion. Changing this starts with the young and how we educate them to think for themselves and evaluate their own success and not see their success through the eyes of a grade or social status."

SPACES's new exhibitions also include Risa Puno's sensory installation, Exhaust, and Deeper Structures, a collection of videos in the Vault curated by Elena Harvey Collins, curatorial assistant at MOCA Cleveland. Next weekend, Collins presents image word song, a multimedia presentation exploring the expression of language through video, performance and songrwriting, as part of Mimeo Revolution at MOCA Cleveland.

Using our brain's connection between memories and scents, Risa Puno's Exhaust comments on themes of energy politics, including interconnected, often conflicting interests.

"Risa uses the scent of gasoline to critique the way we are compelled to accept nonrenewable energy sources as the answer to all of our dreams," Vassallo explains. "An artwork made entirely of scent is a simple gesture and yet an extremely powerful tool. With a simple inhale, fracking, geopolitics, economic structures and all of the competing forces therein are conjured. It's also a fascinating turn to make such a deeply politicized piece that counteracts the commoditization of scent through seemingly innocuous products like perfumes, air fresheners, and household cleaners."

SPACES current exhibitions remain on view through Oct. 16.