by Judith Hoffberg
"Book 4", open,
7 x 5 x 2", 1997-99.
"Book 9", closed,
7 x 5 x 2", 1997-99.
"The Stacks #1" (detail),
metal storage sheds,
90 x 48", 1999.
(Couturier Gallery, West Hollywood) In an age of recycling, as attested to by several museum exhibitions such as the one now at the UCLA/Fowler Museum (Recycled, Re-Seen: Folk Art from the Global Scrap Heap), it is refreshing to see an artist whose intent is to transform castoffs of our society into a library, a Bibliotheca Memoria. This futuristic librarys contents reflect the scarcity of resources making those materials valuable which we so easily find expendable today. But such glories may be discovered in this installation, a major work by Gaza Bowen, who has transformed the entire gallery space into a library/reading room, complete with reference collection made of salvaged metals and assorted material scavenged by the artist. It is a library in which one can interact with 25 books, all created by the artist.
Besides bookshelves, there are reading areas with table, desks, chairs and lamps (ah, such lamps, perhaps the heaviest in the world, one weighing 80 pounds), and naturally, metal books made out of metal boxes, scavenged bolts, screws, hinges, gears, chains, and so much more. Even the stands for the metal books are recycled, as are the wall coverings (some from an old swimming pool). But the books really speak to the viewer and are accessible to the hand. These books are meant to be "read" with the eyes and the hand, telling intimate stories, allowing the viewer to reference these bits of detritus into jewels of memory.
Some favorites are the Pipe Books, with recycled pipe as the binding structure, or a two-volume set depicting the Movement of Energy through Space, with one made up of gears, and the other of chain. The metal has taken on a wonderful set of patinas and hidden ways to tell the "reader" how to turn the page. An Encyclopedia Memoria is a work in progress, each group of letters depicted in a metal volume, where the artist has found items to reflect the letters in question. Bowens intelligence and sensitivity is reflected in each item in this transformative installation.
From age and decay, the artist shows so much respect for materials we throw away. The wall coverings, the bookcases (there are three with book covers made out of scrap metal which are enclosed on the shelves) and the rest are transformed into an evocative place recalling time and memory, decay and restoration, layers of memory and transformative reverence. It is a show you will remember.