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Friday, September 10, 2010

Some Moderately Bookish Thoughts on Nina Katchadourian's Sorted Books.

Posted by Erik Henriksen on Fri, Sep 10, 2010 at 1:15 PM


Since 1993, and in places ranging from NY to OH to CA to TX, Nina Katchadourian has stacked books side by side. For her Sorted Books project, Katchadourian utilizes books from libraries both public and private—arranging them, by title, to create what basically amount to little poems. There's the one above about sharks, for example, or this one, assembled from a collection whose owners are quite fond of helping themselves:


Through October 23, a series of photographs from Katchadourian's sortings are up at PNCA (1241 NW Johnson)—but as clever as some of these combinations of books are, they're also a bit underwhelming.

The most interesting things about these sortings are the weird little hints they offer about the books' owners (or, I suppose, the weird little statements Katchadourian might be making about the books' owners). Taking guesses at this sort of stuff is fun, and it's hard not to be impressed with how Katchadourian's able to cram disparate books together in order to create narratives and poems. But once you get bored with that stuff, her sortings have a tendency to start feeling overly similar, and sometimes they just feel emptily clever. (Wandering from photograph to photograph, I kept thinking of the family that does anagrams for fun in that one Simpsons episode. This seems like how they might sort their books.)

More interesting is what's right around the corner, in a smaller gallery, separate from Katchadourian's photos. PICA explains best:

In addition to photographs from past sortings, Katchadourian is working with a local family to whom books are of prime importance. Tim DuRoche (writer/musician); Lisa Radon (artist/writer); Oskar, 16; Molly, 15; and Neville, 11, are sorting their own libraries, combining books from their individual collections to create a family self-portrait.

I found the books from the local family to be about 10 times more interesting than the photos. Part of it's that these books aren't photographed, they're there—which, for an artistic concept that's at least in part about the physicality of books, seems important. But moreover, the family's collections are a bit more vague and a bit more abstract; they require a bit more sussing out to "get." Not only does this end up being more rewarding, but taken as a whole, the sortings offer an interesting profile of the family, or at least an interesting insight into how the family likes to think of itself. Fittingly, given the parents' professions, a few of the sortings are about music and reading, like this one:

Poetry, Language Thought
Imagining Language
Prior to Meaning

But the ones I dug the most were this one, which seems to describe the house they all presumably live in together—

Mysteries of Small Houses
From Bauhaus to Our House
Lush Life
The Magic World
Noise Water Meat
Joyful Noise
About the House

—and this one. I would totally read a book that combined all three of these books into one narrative.

Travels with Charley
The Runaway Bunny
On the Road


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