Video: Artists Ruth Beale and Brian Griffiths Discuss ‘What Do Libraries Do?’


On 27 October 2020, artists Ruth Beale and Brian Griffiths joined ArtReview to discuss the present and future of libraries. The conversation was part of ArtReview’s partnership with the Brent Biennial, for which both artists had been commissioned to make new work within the London borough’s public and community libraries.

The Library as Memorial is at the centre of Beale’s commission for Kilburn Library, taking the form of a book dedication, in which books themselves become a way to mark and remember. A bookplate will be placed in one book for every victim of COVID-19 in the borough. The bookplates will have space for a dedication, and the public will be invited to visit the library and add a dedication, or send requests for a name to be added to a book. With books gathered from across the borough from Brent Libraries’ book stock, the selection includes books which might help rebuild society in our ‘new normal’.

The commission is a response to the changing nature of public spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic, and has grown out of Beale’s engagement with the library, and a series of workshops with young people from Brent Youth Parliament, exploring their experiences of lockdown and hopes for the world as it reopens.

SELF–CONSCIOUS is an artwork by Griffiths at Cricklewood Library. Conceived as a parallel lending library of selected books paired with sculptures, the work explores the potential and limitations of the unreliable narrator. ‘We are told that there is a tall wooden cupboard in Cricklewood Library, standing somewhat incongruous’ the artist writes. ‘This holds nine books and nine boxed, and therefore hidden, sculptures. We are told when loaning one of these books a bespoke sculpture will be loaned for the same period, to be taken home.
We are told that at the end of the loan period, the sculpture and book must be placed back in the box and returned to the tall wooden cupboard, still standing somewhat incongruous.’

Both works explore the context of the library as being more than a collection of books. This event will discuss the contemporary role these services have in our society, the politics they represent and the threats they face.

Ruth Beale is a London-based artist who works collectively and collaboratively, exploring the way culture, governance and social discourse create society. Her practice includes drawing, performance and installations, as well as socially-engaged processes. Libraries have been a particular interest, as litmus paper for attitudes to education and public services. Recent projects include The Free and the Unfree, a two-year commission with Mansions of the Future, Lincoln, and a Fungus Press public realm poster commission with Turf Projects, Croydon. Ruth also works collaboratively with Amy Feneck as The Alternative School of Economics. Current projects include True Currency: About Feminist Economics, a podcast series commissioned by Gasworks, London and The End of the Present, a residency with Arts Catalyst, London and Sheffield.

Brian Griffiths is an artist that lives and works in London and Colchester. Since graduating from Goldsmiths College in the late 1990s he has been making sculptures and object installations full of over-blown theatricality and pathos. He says he ‘thinks with things – self and stuff are always mixed up.’ Recent solo exhibitions include: Taking Sides at Galeria Luisa Strina in São Paulo (2019); No No to Knock-Knocks at Blain Southern in London (2018); Bill Murray: A story of distance, size and sincerity at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead (2016); Borrowed World, Borrowed Eyes at Tramway in Glasgow (2013). He is a senior lecturer at the Royal Academy Schools in London.

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