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Books, Things, and Piles

An exquisite exhibit by Laurie Rubin at Afterimage on images of her books. When Rubin discusses her collecting habits she remarks that what matters to her is often the fact that her books belonged to other people. “My collection,” she writes,

includes other people’s diaries, scrapbooks, sketchbooks, and photo albums. I am drawn to books that reveal a stranger’s experiences and memories. Many of the books and albums contain collections of ephemera that reveal a lifetime of stories. These books often provide a glimpse into the life of another person and another time.

For Rubin, the book as thing is important because it contains other people’s things (scraps, photos, notes). In this way it becomes a bearer of time. The book collector, for Rubin, is someone who collects other people’s collecting. This is one aspect of interacting with books that has been particularly well remediated online, as in a great recent piece at Domus.

C. Laurie Rubin

C. Laurie Rubin

But when you look at Rubin’s photographs, what seems to be most meaningful to her is not just the book’s thingness, but that it appears in “piles” or “stacks.” Books are meaningful not in their individual sense, but in the aggregate form they assume.

It will be interesting if in the future people begin collecting people’s old harddrives in the way that they once collected old books. What would it mean to have a “stack” of hard drives lying around? Would they have the same meaning? If not, would it tell us something more about why we are drawn to things that can take the shape of a pile?

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