Presenting visual and performance art in unexpected public spaces.

Securing the "Book" in Brooklyn

By Zoe Weitzman

Julia Marchesi sees Brooklyn as a borough-wide book club. No, there may not be bimonthly sit downs with light fare and Julian Barnes-centered banter, but there is literary exchange – and plenty of it. Brooklynites have cozied up with printed matter for good – and be it reading, writing, toting around, researching, perusing, critiquing or commending, it’s all happening in Cobble Hill.

Documentary filmmaker Marchesi has partnered up with artist Leon Reid IV to create a monument to their home borough’s persistent bookishness. With 100 Story House, the two have set out to aesthetically articulate what Reid has termed a “system of informal and anonymous book-sharing,” by constructing a lending library on Clinton Street. A communal centerpiece and conversation starter, the 100 Story House will be a take-a-book, leave-a-book type receptacle for fiction and nonfiction alike.

Of course, 100 Story House may not be considered public art if not for its quirky design: Reid is in the midst of building his and Marchesi’s lending library within a 6-foot-high model of an archetypal Brooklyn brownstone. Bibliophilic visitors will open up the windows of this oversized doll house/undersized town house, and pull or leave the book of their choice. No supervision. No records. No library cards.

100 Story House rendering in Cobble Hill Park (Copyright Leon Reid IV)

In part, Marchesi and Reid see their 100 Story House as a remedy to recent shifts in literary culture. It’s no secret that eReaders are replacing printed-paper books by the shelf-full.  Neither artist exactly shudders at the sight of the Kindle, but they both agree that digital books invite readers to recede into a text, rather than branch out through it. Ideally, their project will revalue physical, tangible book objects as hallmarks of strong communal networks that long predated iPads and the Internet.

Reid has written, “Our laptops and phones and e-readers allow us to withdraw into our insular spaces, changing the way we interact with each other — and how we experience the written word…This is an effort to celebrate the BOOK as a physical object.”

From what I can tell, 100 Story House, is an uncomplicated, if externally ornate, homage to organic interaction, literary culture and simply, bookworm Brooklyn. I spoke with Julia Marchesi to get a little more insight…

AiOP: Tell us a little about 100 Story House.

The 100 Story House is a piece of public art that acts as a (very) small-scale lending library.  It is a 6’ tall ‘brownstone’ with windows that open upon shelves of books.  The idea is that the House will be situated in a public space where local residents can exchange a book they’ve read for one they haven’t.   It operates completely on the honor system.

AiOP: How did the 100 Story House project come together, and what inspired it?

I was inspired by a photograph I saw in the New York Times of a similar project in Berlin.  That one was three tree trunks screwed together and in the trunks they had carved shelves for books, and it was on a sidewalk or public plaza.  I thought it was really cute and realized that it was the perfect thing for Brooklyn, where people leave books on their front steps on nice weekends in a kind of informal book exchange.  Through a friend I met Leon Reid IV, a public artist, and he came up with the mini brownstone idea as homage to Brooklyn architecture.  We then were very lucky to be able to raise $13,000 from friends and supporters on Kickstarter.

AiOP: How is the project progressing – do you have a date of completion in mind?

It’s coming along very nicely!  It will be completed soon — probably by mid July.

AiOP: This isn’t the first sculptural lending library to materialize in recent years. How do you think these literary receptacles can bolster or enrich a community?

There’s a fair amount of hand-wringing surrounding the notion of e-books and Amazon, and how they will negatively effect local bookstores, libraries, and the simple pleasure of holding a book in one’s hands.  I am by no means anti-technology, I love the Kindle and the iPad, and actually I think one of the best things about these advancements is that they make us turn around and look at what they are replacing in a new light.  I may never have done this project had I not bought a Kindle a few weeks earlier.  It made me realize that one thing I love about reading books is the satisfaction I get from giving someone a book I enjoyed — the exact copy — so that they can share the experience.  Somehow telling someone to download something on Amazon isn’t quite the same (and they also have to buy it).   So, the community aspect is really important here.  Connecting neighbors who may not know each other, creating a conversation piece, a place where people can share their books and find new ones — it’s a great idea exchange.  Not only that but I think many people have limited room for books in their houses and apartments and this is a great way to share books with others while making room on your shelves for more!

AiOP: How do you hope Brooklyn residents will interact with the finished structure?

My great hope is that people will respect the idea, not only in terms of giving as many books as they take, but also by sharing books they truly love.  In other words, I am hoping people don’t see it as a way to get rid of their kids’ SAT books or their outdated encyclopedias.  The spirit of the House is that you really want others to have the same experience you did with a particular book (or, maybe you didn’t enjoy it but there’s a chance that others might), and that means donating novels and general interest non-fiction.

AiOP: Do you try and partake in the Brooklyn literary culture? Are there any books you’re planning on leaving in the 100 Story House?

I’m not drawn specifically to Brooklyn-based literature, though I’ve certainly read some good ones, and I love that many authors live in the area.  I have a whole stack of books that I’m planning on leaving in the House.  One book I’ve read in the last 6 months that blew me away was Stoner by John Williams.  It’s an overlooked novel from the 60’s and it’s exquisite — I think everyone should read it!

AiOP: Do you have any upcoming projects?

I’m a documentary filmmaker, and I’m currently deep in production on a four part series for PBS on Italian Americans.  So I have no new public art projects on deck at the moment.  However, there are some ways I may consider expanding this one.  For instance, tagging all the books in the house with some sort of web ID where people can log in and give their comments on the book, and its travels can be documented online.  It seems like a great way to incorporate social media and technology with a bricks-and-mortar community project.  I’ve already been in touch with a publisher in South Africa who wants to do this with some of her books as a way to promote South African writers in the US!


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