The Library of Unread Books

A living reference library that traces the perimeters of excess knowledge. By making unread books accessible the library works to create a commons.

26 November 2017–25 February 2018 / Casco HQ

The exhibition features an installation of unread, donated books that make up a part of a traveling library.

With over 500 titles, The Library of Unread Books is a living reference library that traces the perimeters of excess knowledge. Every single book you find in the collection was once private property and has been donated by an individual who did not read it when it was in their possession. Contributors to the growing mobile library receive a personalized library card and a lifetime membership. The Library of Unread Books brings to light these once-hidden-away titles to emphasize shared knowledge. The books, which are accessible to anyone who can visit the library sites, work to create a commons.

Reminding us that a (private) library is both a means to an end and a research tool rather than an accessory, Umberto Eco famously called for an “antilibrary” made up of unread books. The novelist and scholar argued that read books are far less valuable than the unread ones and that a library should contain as much of what one does not know as finance might allow. “You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly.” In the case of this library of unread books, access to knowledge is not contingent on finance, and so the books are reverted back to a common resource pool.

Installed in room three of Casco’s upstairs exhibition space, the books will be arranged randomly, in stacks, encouraging visitors to feel at home and rearrange the books according to one’s will and desire. The library will be open during exhibition hours, Tuesday to Sunday, 12:00 to 18:00, where an onsite librarian will be available to introduce the collection and receive donations in exchange for lifetime access to the library and a personalized library card. We also gladly receive books prior to the exhibition at Casco. Feel free to post your book to Casco (Lange Nieuwstraat 7, 3512 PA, Utrecht, NL) or drop by during opening hours to deliver it in person. Your library card will be mailed to you during the exhibition period if you donate ahead of time. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with questions.

Please come by and read an unread book. If you have one, please donate it to the library. Someone else will read it for you.

The Library of Unread Books will also host several activities in the Possibility Room, a name appropriated from the National Library in Singapore. Located in the fourth room of the exhibition space, this interchangeable and flexible space will serve as a hosting space for various activities and gatherings arranged alongside The Library of Unread Books. These activities include a workshop with the third-year graphic design students from Gerrit Rietveld Academie under the guidance of artist Riet Wijnen; events with Read-In; ReadingRoom; Aphra’s Book Club as well as book launches, including that of 365 Days of Invisible Work with Werker Collective. 

Please follow this website and our social media for forthcoming details about the public program for The Library of Unread Books.

As facilitators of the library, Chong and Staal imagine that after ten years on the road, the library will enter the permanent collection of an as yet undetermined institution. The Library of Unread Books is currently dependent on the generosity and openness of other institutions to host it for a given period of time. This iteration of The Library of Unread Books began in September 2016 as part of a residency at NTU Center for Contemporary Art in Singapore where it remained until May 2017. The subsequent installment was at Museum of Contemporary Art and Design in Manila in August, and in November 2017 it lands at Casco. While most of the future sites are not yet confirmed, the idea is that the Library will never be in storage, that it will always be accessible to anyone who wants to read.

About Renée Staal

Renée Staal co-founded the long-term research project The Library of Unread Books with Heman Chong in 2016. She is currently working at the National Gallery Singapore and has previously worked at art institutions and in architecture practices such as Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). She has also contributed to numerous artist-run projects in the Netherlands.

About Heman Chong

Heman Chong is an artist whose work is located at the intersection between image, performance, situations, and writing. He recently produced a series of interconnected exhibitions located in Art Sonje Center (Never, A Dull Moment, 2015), South London Gallery (An Arm, A Leg and Other Stories, 2015) and Rockbund Art Museum (Ifs, Ands, Or Buts, 2016). Between 2012 and 2014, he produced Moderation(s), a program between Witte de With Contemporary Art in Rotterdam and Spring Workshop in Hong Kong that involved more than fifty artists and engendered a conference, three exhibitions, three residencies, and a book of short stories. He is currently working on a novel The Book of Drafts, which will be published by Polyparenthesis in 2019.

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