Upcoming Event: Books in Motion Exhibition

May 4, 2016

The “Books in Motion: Exhibition,” which runs from May 5-12, 2016, is an exhibition of manuscripts and printed works from Jafet Library’s Archives and Special Collections, displayed alongside examples of contemporary art and books.

The exhibition is curated by AUB professors Hala Auji (FAAH) and Sonja Mejcher-Atassi (English) in conjunction with “Books in Motion: Exploring Concepts of Mobility in Cross-Cultural Studies of the Book,” a three day interdisciplinary conference held at AUB that explores new perspectives in the study of the book. Expanding on the themes of the conference, this exhibition asks the following: what can the book communicate to its readers and collectors about its temporal and spatial mobility?

More specifically, what can be said about the nature of the book form, as a self-contained site, by considering its mobility through circulation, reproducibility, mutability, and transferability?

The books on display are grouped according to “knowledge production,” “travel and exchange,” “material transformations,” and “aesthetics and politics,” the overlapping conceptual themes of mobility that “Books in Motion” explores.

The exhibition is available for viewing during Jafet Library’s opening hours. Manuscripts will only be on display until May 9, 2016

For more information, you can find the Exhibit’s Curatorial Statement below.

This exhibition expands upon the themes of the conference “Books in Motion: Exploring Concepts of Mobility in Cross-Cultural Studies of the Book” by asking the following: what can the book communicate to its readers and collectors about its temporal and spatial mobility? More specifically, what can be said about the nature of the book form, as a self-contained site, by considering its mobility through circulation, reproducibility, mutability, and transferability? This exhibition of manuscripts and printed works from Jafet Library’s Special Collections, displayed alongside examples of contemporary art and books, suggests the multiple trajectories that possible responses could take. The books on display are grouped according to “knowledge production,” “travel and exchange,” “material transformations,” and “aesthetics and politics,” the overlapping conceptual themes of mobility that “Books in Motion” explores.

The selection of books varies from religious texts and anthologies to travel literature and works of art. It suggests an understanding of movement in both the figural and literal senses of the term. Volumes of devotional literature, compilations of poetry and prose, lexicons, and encyclopedic productions all demonstrate diverse approaches to knowledge production, acting as markers of shifting societal ideological, philological, and taxonomical interests. The varied translations, reproductions, and editions of these works challenge the notion of books as “fixed” bodies of knowledge. Additionally, the shift from manuscript to printed forms exemplifies mobility as material transformation, and problematizes the idea of a rupture with traditional practice with the advent of new book-making technologies.

Readers’ notes and marks of ownership indicate the physical movement of books as commodities in networks of trade and exchange. Concurrently, these extra-textual notes, glosses, and interventions show how books are continuously “produced” through reading, circulation, and collection, after the process of manufacture. Physical mobility is evident in texts on travel by Orientalists to those by fin de siècle Arab authors. Tales of encounters with societies, sites, and worldviews, whether real or imaginary, construct and promote views of the “other,” which in turn are ways in which the producers of books negotiate notions of the “self” and broader constructs of identity.

In light of present-day debates surrounding the book’s “demise,” it is now perhaps most primed for artistic experimentation and digital remediation. These developments inform the book’s social and political potential through such varied concerns as reinventing traditional reading practices or circumventing state control and surveillance. As the libraries of embattled cities burn, concerns over books, as objects of cultural heritage, have intensified. Books are continuously moving within networks of trade and exchange between dealers, collections, and black markets. Yet, as the contemporary examples in this exhibition suggest, the present-day book (or non-book) as an art form is no longer restricted to customary practice, as informed by history or ideology. Liberated from tradition, the book’s nonconventional forms, uses, and meanings challenge, respond to, and alter standard modes of reading and knowledge production. The book now becomes a site for subversive political and social intervention.

Exhibition Curators

Hala Auji, Department of Fine Arts and Art History

Sonja Mejcher-Atassi, Department of English

We would like to thank Hosni Auji for his work on the exhibition’s digital display and design components. We are also grateful for the support and assistance of Dr. Kaoukab Chebaro, Samar Kaissi Mikati, Dr. Lokman Meho, and Jafet Library staff. Special thanks go out to Elias Abboud and May Talhouk of Jafet’s Archives and Special Collections Department for their time and effort in producing the book cradles used in the exhibition.

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