Rejected Bodleian Library Proposal for Katalin Hausel‘s exhibition Movement, Anomalies and Distractions, at Wolfson College Gallery, Oxford University in 2012.
Library Toilet as Final Frontier: On Rejection, the Bodily, and the Bodleian By Katie Herzog July 25, 2012
My proposed exchange will be facilitated via the swapping of doors in the stalls of the public toilet at the Oxford University Library with stall doors in the Oxford Public Library.
In December, 2011, I announced my proposal to swap library toilet stall doors between the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library and the City of Oxford’s Public Library. The plan was to encourage writing in each location for a few months, swap doors, solicit responses (with a different color ink) for a few more months, and then exhibit the doors at the exhibition during Oxford’s Open Days. The project was meant to give members of the public an opportunity to communicate with library patrons at a government funded (HEFCE) institution which the public are strictly exempt from (including on Oxford’s open days), and to foster an exchange. Aside from local politics, I wanted to draw attention to the toilet stall as a final frontier: one of, if not the only non-surveilled space left (telecommunications included). The library as site is not arbitrary. As a pillar of democracy and an institution dedicated to the preservation of and open access to information, librarians worldwide are engaged daily with battles ranging from censorship to government “counter-terror” programs (such as the US PATRIOT Act) aimed to strip library patrons of their privacy. As the UK increasingly embraces public monitoring systems through the UAV, CCTV, oyster cards, phone and vehicle tracking, and the world’s largest DNA database, the localized curatorial vision of Movement, Anomalies and Distractions seemed like a fitting opportunity to address national and universal information politics on a local scale. With humor.
Interception Modernisation and the Early Modern State ➢ The intensity and complexity of life, attendant upon advancing civilization, have rendered necessary some retreat from the world, and man, under the refining influence of culture, has become more sensitive to publicity so that solitude and privacy have become more essential to the individual; but modern enterprise and invention have, through invasion upon his privacy, subjected him to mental pain and distress, far greater than could be inflicted by mere bodily injury. – Warren & Brandeis, The Right to Privacy (1890)
➢ The publication [of figures] by the human rights group Privacy International… suggest Britain is the worst Western democracy at protecting individual privacy. The two worst countries in the 36-nation survey are Malaysia and China, and Britain is one of the bottom five with “endemic surveillance.” – BBC News (2006)
➢ “There are now at least 51,600 CCTV cameras controlled by local authorities, with five councils now operating more than 1,000 cameras. In comparison, £515m would put an extra 4,121 police constables on the streets – the equivalent of Northumbria police’s entire force.” –Big Brother Watch (2012)
➢ Our modern demarcation of pubic and private zones occurred as a result of a twin movement in political and legal thought. The emergence of the nation-state and theories of sovereignty in the 16th and 17th centuries generated the concept of a distinctly public realm. On the other hand, the identification of a private domain free from the encroachment of the state emerged as a response to the claims of monarchs, and, in due course, parliaments, to an untrammelled power to make the law. In other words, the appearance of the modern state, the regulation of social and economic activities, and the recognition of a private realm, are natural prerequisites to this separation. – Raymond Wacks, Privacy: A Very Short Introduction (2010)
The initial conversation between the curator and the library seemed positive: “[The Bodleian Communications Officer] was very open, apparently our timing is very good, as they just have a new policy of trying to become a bit more open to the general public, and reshape the perception of themselves as more integral part of the community of the city, not only of the university. So in many ways she was very positive, and she said she is certain that in some shape the collaboration can happen.” -email from Katalin Hausel, January 25, 2012 The Bodleian Communications Officer did express some concern that my project (there were three artists proposing works in the library) might “come out as embarrassing the institution.” I secretly delighted in the language, as the nickname for the Bodleian is “The Bod,” and my work was threatening to embarrass said body. (Because the work was drawing attention to the bodily? Cute! Because organized communication in toilet stalls has historically been followed by lewd sex acts? Hooray!) Three months later my proposal was (along with those of the other two artists) rejected by the Bodleian. Bad timing was cited as the reason. The resulting work for Movement, Anomalies and Distractions consists of the initial proposal and correspondence surrounding the rejection. The visual component for the show at the Wolfson College Gallery includes photographs of public library toilet graffiti in Los Angeles and San Francisco.