“Reading Room” invites engagement with texts on display.
Have you ever walked into an art gallery and been tempted to touch a painting or sculpture when the security guard wasn’t looking? If so, then “Reading Room,” currently on display at the Owens Art Gallery, is the exhibition for you. Not only does the collection allow viewers to handle the pieces on display, but it actively encourages it.
“Reading Room” is a fun showcase of contemporary art that is both interactive and engaging. The exhibition strives to re-establish printed word as a visual object, while challenging the viewer to interact with texts in new ways.
“The exhibition grew out of a desire to connect readers of Sackville with artists in the community,” explained curator Lucy MacDonald. “But as our project developed, we became increasingly interested in how the artists featured in the exhibition transformed [books] to defamiliarize them, thereby encouraging reflection on these everyday objects.”
The featured works are enticingly arranged. In particular, Adam David Brown’s History of Art jumps out to the viewer and serves as an appropriate introduction to the collection. Brown cut twelve uniform holes into a red, unembellished art history textbook and arranged these circles of text into three orderly rows. By physically cutting holes into the canon of art history, Brown’s piece prompts the viewer to consider the art and artists that have been overlooked or forgotten over time.
Other pieces are less distinctive and require the viewer to physically handle them to uncover their meanings. One example is Kristen Atkins’s Literary Cardiogram (1), which at first glance appears to be a generic pulp romance novel. However, when the viewer opens the book’s cover, it is revealed that Atkins has blacked out all the text with the exception of the three playful words: “I,” “love,” and “you.” This piece provokes the viewer to question the appeal of romance as a genre, cutting through the prose to reveal the imagined core of the book.
One of the most difficult but rewarding pieces in the exhibition is Micah Lexier’s 1334 Words for 1334 Students, for which Lexier collaborated with Colm Toibin and every student at Cawthra Park Secondary School.
Each student wrote a single word from the story by hand, resulting in a mix of indiscernible handwriting. The viewer’s eye is forced to continually adapt to different writing styles and sizes, a surprisingly difficult task. This encourages the viewer to be aware of the act of reading, rather than being passively immersed in the story.
“Reading Room” is an exciting and interactive exhibition featuring a variety of contemporary artists working in non-traditional mediums to explore an accessible theme. It will be on display at the Owens Art Gallery until Feb. 8.