From the dilettante's library (with notations)
May 25 - july 26, 2013
NextSpazioA, Pistoia, Italy
For his first solo exhibition in Italy, Gareth Long continues his ongoing interest in books, learning, amateurism, replication and copying, and the the subject of the artist as dilettante, bringing together an associative layering of references that reflects on contemporary artistic production.
From the Home & Garden Section of the New York Times (2013) takes as its subject the Loeb Classical Library, a series publishing the most important Ancient Greek and Latin literary texts. With its straightforward English translations and colour coding (green for Greek and red for Latin), the series wasn't originally intended for serious academic research, but to make the world of classical literature accessible to the layperson. In 1917, writer Virginia Wolfe wrote ‘The existence of the amateur was recognised by the publication of this Library, and to a great extent made respectable’.
Today however, the Loeb Classical Library has, outside academic circles, become a marker of sophistication, rather than amateurism. Due to its mass-distribution as well as its easily recognizable design, it has become highly popularized as a collector's item. As the title of Long's work indicates, the books have become design features that are intended to adorn the home, as well as to show-off the owner's learning and erudition. So much so that, on the 100th anniversary of the Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press put out a call for photographs of people's bookshelves populated with the ultra-recognizable volumes, asking them to "Show us your Loebs!".
Covering a large portion of the gallery floor in red and green tiles, Long's work plays on the joke that these books – the dilettante's library – have come to symbolize all things upon which Western thinking stands. The 520 tiles on the gallery floor are abstracted in such a way so as to suggest the spines of every Loeb book that has been published to date (in the order in which they were released). Only partially covering the gallery floor, Long's work points to the inherent incompleteness of this collection of ancient texts, as well as his own incomplete understanding of these texts.
The title of the exhibition also suggests that this library is notated. The notations that Long is referring to here, though, are not to be found in the margins of the Loeb Classical Library, but rather in the thinking of Leon Battista Alberti (1404 - 1472). Alberti, a noted polymath, is known most famously for his ideas on perspective and painting, architecture and design. The exhibition includes works by Long centering on a device designed by Alberti. This device – called the definitor or the finitorium – though conceptualized in the mid-1400s, effectively suggested a 'digital' process for making 'perfect' copies of statues. The definitor would measure in 3 axes countless points on a sculptures' three dimensional form, turning the curves and contours of the form into a series of numbers and points. These notations could then, in theory, be communicated to another fabricator who could, in turn, translate them into a 'perfect' copy.
Alberti's device (it was never actually made and contained some serious design flaws) functions on the same principles that govern digital fabrication today: a notational system of mapping points on a 3 axes scale is exactly how 3D models are calculated in the computer, how CNC milling, laser cutting, and 3D printing all produce objects.
Long's recreation of the device in this exhibition is an imperfect copy of an imperfect device for making perfect copies. And, as such, Long made certain to have the device fabricated using the technologies that Alberti pre-figured.
Alberti, of course, was often considered a dilettante himself (by both his supporters and his critics). And, interestingly, the book in which the definitor was described was translated by Alberti himself from the Latin, just one year after it's publication, in many ways mirroring the Loeb Classical Library's approach to making the texts available to the layperson.
The dilettante in the exhibition's title isn't necessarily Alberti, but rather a collection of characters: Alberti, yes; but also the book-fancier; the Loeb-collector and reader; the artist; and this artist, Gareth Long.