Iowa City, Iowa
archive / performance / mail art
variable – each catalog card measures 4 x 6″
When I installed Thread Library at Iowa City Public Library, I did not anticipate how quickly the piece would come to extend beyond its physical display. Although I arranged two donation points in Iowa City–besides the public library, thread could also be donated at a local fabric shop–what proved to be most popular with our “patrons” was donation by mail. I responded to all threads donated via post with a letter, one of which is included in the image set.
I include such an image because the correspondence also captures the performative aspect of Thread Library: during artist talks and class visits, I impersonate a special collections curator. In order to seem more like a librarian in an archives setting, I speak in the royal “we,” and appropriate library jargon: at Thread Library, we have thread “holdings,” which are further divided into “collecting areas,” such as regional (Midwestern) thread and local (Iowa) thread: the collecting area in which we specialize. Our “founding collection” is always growing–new threads are referred to as our “recent acquisitions.”
Whenever I present the piece publicly, a humorous juxtaposition emerges between this performance of librarianship, and the reality viewers know to be true: in actuality, Thread Library is operated by just one artist.
These performances, the card catalog entries, and the written correspondence combine to form a ‘grammar’ for Thread Library. The formality of this ‘grammar of the archive’ contrasts with the sentimental and personal character of the thread collection. Ultimately, Thread Library claims that the nature of collecting is essentially subjective, even at the level of institutional collection. Furthermore, Thread Library suggests that materiality should be considered to be within the purview of “information.” Finally, Thread Library argues that the public library is a habitat where contemporary art can thrive. As the book artist Ulises Carrión claimed, “I believe art as a practice has been superseded by a more complex, more rigorous and richer practice: culture. We’ve reached a privileged historical moment when keeping an archive can be an artwork.” (Quant aux livres, page 195)