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Central Library, Seattle

'The Library Unbound' Series

In March 2003 an open call was sent to the Seattle Arts Commission's 'national artists' mailing list for artists "whose work deals with social structures, people and systems" to develop a proposal for the 'Library Unbound' series of commissions planned to be installed in the new library the following year during its first year of operations. Additionally, the arts planners contacted artists "whose past work makes them particularly appropriate for these commissions", encouraging them to apply. At least one award was to be made to a Seattle-based artist. The project would include a residency period of one or two weeks for the selected artists at the Temporary Central Library whilst the new library was still under construction. An advisory panel was formed to select this group of artists, comprising a local artist, a specialist in the field of public art, a member of the library staff, a member of the Library Board, and the arts planners.

From the 268 respondents to the 'request for qualifications', the panel selected a small number of artists who were invited to make a site visit and were interviewed. Following the interviews four artists - mixed media/sound/text artist Renee Green (New York), textile artist Mandy Greer (Seattle), new media artist George Legrady (California), and installation artist Lynne Yamamoto (New York) - were recommended in June 2003 to the Library Board to propose and develop temporary, process-oriented artworks. Up to three of the resultant artists' proposals would then be selected by the Library for realisation in their new building. Each of the four selected artists undertook a residency at the Temporary Central Library during September 2003, to familiarise themselves with the institution's collections and operations. The project team discussed with the artists the idea that their work, while situated within an architectural context, should not be about the building at all but should specifically address the functions, patrons, or ideals of the library.

In January 2004 Mandy Greer and Lynne Yamamoto's proposals were selected to go forward for realisation during the following year. In July 2004 the Library Board selected a third artist from the original applicants, George Legrady, to realise the proposal for the 'Library Unbound' project that he had been developing since January. He was enabled to carry out his project at the scale and in the location he proposed because the Library had received $50,000 from the Committee of 33 (a non-profitmaking Seattle organisation of women funding public art and environmental improvements) specifically dedicated for this artwork.

In the original Public Art Plan, a further 'Literary Commission' was proposed, to exploit the "special opportunity" the context of the public library afforded to engage with such a concept. This proposal was not in the end implemented, however. Instead, three rather than two artists were commissioned for the Library Unbound project, the nature of their work in some ways assuming forms that a 'literary commission' might have explored.

The following Library Unbound commissions are currently at varying stages of development or completion:

Mandy Greer has developed a series of works made out of fabric, papier-mache and steel for the children's area of the library, based on three folk tales found in books in the library's collection. Art workshops with children have formed part of the artist's process.

George Legrady's Making Visible the Invisible: What the Community is Reading is an electronic installation mapping the circulation of non-fiction books, presented on six large plasma screens behind the reference desk.

Lynne Yamamoto is creating a sculptural collage incorporating white resin casts of antiquated library furnishings still in use within the library, examining cultural and social issues using historical source material. The work has experienced some technical difficulties, but will be installed adjacent to the local studies collection.

© Copyright David Briers 2005