I temporarily remove all the male-authored books from the shelves and put them in the other room. It’s slapstick and satisfying and the administrators of the libraries really feel it as a critique. The dividing action is basic: so problematically obvious that its actual execution is alarming. We know there’s a problem with reading lists, syllabi, book stores, etc., but acting out the impetuous impulse to clear out the dudes clogging the shelves—to make that disparity clear and to aestheticize it—feels radical because the visual results are so surprising.
What complicates it a little is my own taste as the arbiter. There’s only an approximate relationship between the concept and the bodies involved: all the Norton Anthologies go out, but Paul Preciado and Baldwin stay, and so does, for example, a collection of mid-century sculpture.
It’s also about labor. I rigorously document the books in their original positions, and the men removed from the shelves are carefully arranged in order to return them to the right places. As soon as “Library” is ‘complete,’ it is undone. Which asks the question: are the bare shelves the climax of the performance? Or is the hurried, laborious reinstatement of all the man-books the point of it all?
I’m getting some arm muscles from this project. It’s about my body as much as the frustration I feel in libraries and book stores. Can a woman carry out all these books? How do we deal with feelings that act as part of the system we’re up against? I feel like a woman because that’s the available constitution, I feel ridiculous, this performance is a temper tantrum, I feel like an artist, and the immediate undoing of my labor makes particular room for the acknowledgment of this fantasy.