The birth of the library and the empty archive
As a rule, children start to read by having someone read a book to them. In
this sense, having someone read to you is a kind of reading where the reading is delegated to someone while you simply listen to what is written on the page. You read by having someone read something to you. Should some of these books, now, turn out to be worth reading or listening to (which is the case if you insist on havingthe same book read to you over and over again), then you might begin collecting them without ever actually having read them. What we then get is a library, or rather the seed of a library; and though for the time being this library is unplanned, it is still there, whether or not one has read or been able to read the books. Later on, when you start reading for yourself (and, at !rst, to yourself), there will always remain some books that will be deemed worthy of inclusion in the idea of the unplanned library. Weeks go by, years go by, and the library will keep growing. At this point, it would be premature to indulge in speculations about a possible
order informing this unplanned library. For now, let us instead simply postulate that the idea of the library boils down to selecting those books which, having accompanied the reader for a while, have left a memorable trace in her or his consciousness—by opening vistas onto spaces and epochs that lie beyond one’s everyday life or by helping the reader to conceive of everyday life itself as something outside the time-space coordinates that supposedly circumscribe it. However, the idea to include a book in a library (no matter how
unplanned the library) will always draw sustenance from the possibility that one day one may read it or simply pick it o” the shelf—if only to open it at random, read around in it without actually reading it, and then put it back—back where it belongs (without really belonging exactly there), back to where—in a de!nitely unplanned fashion—it has found its place. What begins here is a library that was never planned as such and rather appears like a commonality of books. However, as the books grow in number they also grow together, and they do so in such a manner that the library grows out of them. In this sense, the seed of the idea of the library is already there in the individual book— just as the idea of the translation is already there in the original. Continuing this line of thought, we may say that a library translates books into a spatial language, a language capable of providing a book with an address. This address, though always there in the book from the very beginning, is nevertheless unpredictable. A book that has proved worth reading needs an address, a home, a place, no matter how independent it remains of this place. It is the book’s autonomy with respect to the place it requires which makes the library such a seminal institution, since the library constitutes a space within a space where the thing contained exceeds the limits of the container both in terms of space and time. The library annuls the very space it inhabits. Paradoxical though it may seem: to enter a library is to leave a room.
An act of entering becomes a gesture of leave-taking. To spend time in a library is to make oneself at home in the exterior. And this applies to all libraries that !t the description of being unplanned communities of books that have somehow grown together—despite or maybe even because of their di”erences. Now, the idea suggests itself—and this is the point from which the work of Claudia Märzendorfer takes its departure—that one may confront the idea of the library itself and give shape to this space within a space. The library understood as an unplanned community of books; the book understood as in need of an address: these are the premises from which the idea evolved to develop a book about the idea of the book, a book, that is, that would be about other books without threatening to usurp their place. The solution was a book consisting of blank pages, an unwritten book. This ‘unwrittenness’ has nothing to do with the modernist idea of the empty book, the ultimate book à la Mallarmé1, which, itself unwritten, was to incorporate all books that ever have been or ever will be written. By contrast, the unwritten— albeit bound—books of Claudia Märzendorfer embody the prototypical book: the book as book. These are individual books, each one standing on its own, regardless of what is not written in it and cannot be read out of it. No more is required than to recognize the individual book in the prototype. The individuality of the various prototypes is further underscored by the graphic notations inscribed on the books’ edges. While they may remind us of seismograms or frequency curves, the notations’ purpose is purely associative and undirected. They signify, yet they do so without a”ording any clues as to what the content of the book could or should be. The writing has wandered o” the page to the edge of the page, leaving the page itself blank. Paper is thus described as a medium inscribed with meaning. What remains is the book as signi!cant and signifying object. These books neither can nor need to be read, just like the books that once were read to us by others. They will end up in one’s library or in one of the libraries Claudia Märzendorfer has installed in various places. What Claudia Märzendofer repeatedly accomplishes with these library installations is the opening of a space within a space, the marking of a diasporic space that internalizes the promise of an exterior. The library as diaspora. Unwritten and unreadable, these libraries refuse to be either accessed or appropriated—just as any book that has just been read points to the possibility that it might be read again. In this sense, no book, whether written or unwritten, can ever be exhaustively read. Every act of reading only defers the next act of reading to another day. The seemingly !xed lines stand revealed as a mere !xation on the act of writing and reading itself. The seemingly manifest and !xed character of language invites being reinterpreted as something “uid and ephemeral. Nothing remains then, except the imprint a book leaves in one’s memory, an imprint that will change as soon as the
next reading will contribute additional levels of meaning that had gone unnoticed
before. And this is the point where Claudia Märzendorfer’s books and libraries turn out to be kindred in spirit with her ice sculptures. Music records made of ice. Suitcases made of ice. Sculptures on a journey, sculptures that at the very moment of their disappearance through melting can be seen, read, listened to; once they are gone, the idea of form and meaning is sustained only through remembrance. What remains of these ice sculptures is the experience of a reading process. Going beyond the structuralist conception of the world as text—which entails that all our perceptions are tailored to our need to !nd meanings—these readings in the medium of ice point to the di#erence between the momentary act of reading and the knowledge of the unreadable.
Claudia Märzendorfer’s books and libraries thus confront us with objects which, by refusing to be exhaustively read, all the more urgently remind us of the act of reading; by contrast, her ice projects dramatize the manifest act of perceiving against the background of the object’s disappearance. The book that is denied its readers, the sculpture that is denied its object. On the one hand, we have a library of unwritten books; on the other hand, the ice sculptures hallucinate an archive of ephemeral and disintegrating objects—an ultimately empty archive, that is.
The only archive capable of storing these ice sculptures is the air we breathe—a climatic challenge, if you will, conjoined to the idea of reading the sculpture by inhaling it. If the ice sculptures leave the premises at all, they do so only as breath and experience.
Attempting to think these two seemingly contradictory Figures together—the preservation of unwritten books in a library and the storage of disintegrating ice sculptures—one realizes that the two converge in a concept of time. Like the act of reading, the process of disintegration delineates a horizon with respect to events. The beauty here lies in the two different speeds informing these events. While we may race through a book or read it very slowly, the unplanned growth of the library appears to stubbornly follow its own course. Similarly, the empty archive grows and grows, no matter how fast or how slowly the ice sculptures melt away. Both Figures are of a processual nature, both Figures embody different time schemes.
The minutes and hours are just as present as an awareness of years and decades. It is this yoking together and interweaving of different chronologies which is the hallmark of Claudia Märzendorfer’s work, no matter what material and medium she is working with at the moment. It is no exaggeration to say that all her work insists on joining together and keeping in balance these various vectors of time— the ephemerally performative anchored in the present and the virtual archive, which by de!nition looks beyond the present. It is only through the interaction of these di”erent chronologies that a space is created which invites us to find a mode to deal with time and to read space itself as a !gure of time. We may therefore conclude and summarize: whether she works with ice or books, Claudia Märzendorfer’s true medium is time. Given that the artist comes from a sculptural background, ‘time sculptures’ may seem an appropriately descriptive name, yet this term has the drawback of being too abstract and planned to capture the di”event horizons of events. Maybe this question should be passed on/delegated to the empty archives and the yet unwritten books.
1 Cf. Stephane Mallarmé’s book, ‘whose realization, though, never made it beyond the !rst stage of conception. […] The book
implies the disappearance of the exterior in the whiteness of the nothing by means of which the work a#rms itself and in
doing so also negates itself. […] Since the book … contains the sum of all books, and since in its capacity as the Great (or
Pure) — yet unwritten —work it must exclude the world (just as it excludes chance by accepting it as a necessity), human
beings as subjects and agents of history have to be excluded as well – in fact, their disappearance is required if the work is to
come into and stay in being at all.’ (Felix Phillip Ingold: Das Buch im Buch, Berlin 1988, p. 7)