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Fred McSherry

Artist Statement

The Virtual Library is an installation of hand-made book works that offers a satirical reflection on the current status of "The Book" in western culture. The advent of virtual worlds of information has brought about a number of changes to the social and cultural practices that sustain the nature of book-based knowledge. For one, the relationship of the reader to the text has changed. So too have the material means through which the authority of the text is achieved. In fact the structures of a broad spectrum of processes, institutions and industries built upon the physical transmission and representation of knowledge have been affected by a technologically expanded information universe. In form and content, The Virtual Library promotes reflection on the historical processes that underpin these transformations.

Produced between 1991 and 1997, the installation comprises a series of 22 volumes of the book of "Knowledge", and 47 individual book works, housed in two bookcases. Meant to simulate the scholarly tome, the book works are bound in leather with either cloth or hand-made cover-stock paper and their titles are embossed into the spine with gold leaf. The "library" furnishings have been designed to recall the neoclassical reading room. Large and overstated, the books and their cases favour the symbolic display of the values associated with these realms of knowledge over the accommodation of the subjects of that knowledge. By virtue of its particular content, however, this "library" directs the orientation of the viewer/reader away from the abstraction of the neoclassical ideal towards more material, immediate and concrete concerns. The books are made from the shredded fragments of one or more previously published books. The anarchistic juxtaposition of dissonant texts dramatically foregrounds the relationship between the reader and the work. Meaning is suspended in the dialectical confrontation between each of the original contents and their new forms: The reader provides the crucial link in this circuit of signification.

Hand made and labour intensive, the manner of my book works’ creation gives form and a very particular expression to what are otherwise invisible processes. The book work production begins with the physical dismantling of a "found" publication. Generally I use popular publications such as political biographies, popular historical narratives or how-to manuals, but sometimes I shred encyclopedias and scientific textbooks. The covers and bindings are removed and the pages are shredded, saving most illustrations intact. New sheets of paper are then formed with the paper maker’s mold and cotton pulp, which includes all these shredded fragments (and sometimes other ephemera such as straw, banknote and tinsel). The new pages are quite literally built out of the old. Appearing in a composition of random sentences and illustrations from diverse sources that are now unhinged, if not completely divorced, from their past manifestation, the original contents of the source book are radically transformed. The new book work’s title combines elements from the original publication to echo this effect. This relationship refers to the processes of cultural change where new technologies build upon the concepts and materials of past forms: The new does not so much efface the old, as selectively adapt critical elements of its multiple meanings and effects.

The Virtual Library: Contents

Automobiles & Methods of Logic
Banking and Erotica
Bookkeeping and the Cosmos
Canada and First Nations
Christianity, Gender & The Wild Kingdom
The CIA Mountain
Crochet and Artificial Intelligence
Darwin & the Mafia
The Development of Meaning
The Ethics of Krupp
Fish and the Stock Market
First Nations and the Atlas
Federalism and Needlework
Fertility and Motherhood
Film & TV Game Shows
Genetics & Cricket
J.F.K & Imperialism
A History of Art & The Church (2 Volumes)
Hymns and Steel
Home Decoration and Sexology
Knowledge (22 Volumes)
Larousse Medical (2 Volumes)
L.B.J. & The Great New Society
Locomotives & Christianity
Lord Protector
Management, WWII, and the Body
Mao & China
Planet Moon
Practical Yoga and Desire
President Reagan & the Evil Empire
Psychology & Aircraft
Real Estate and WWI
Recipes for Success
R.M. Nixon & Communism
Steel Making and Celebrities
Thermodynamics and Pro Football
Trivia and World Records
Wages, Gambling & Exercise

The Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art
The Canadian Art Database: Canadian Artists Files

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