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Libraries serie


When the term « library » comes up in contemporary art, two monumental works that may serve as a point of departure for this theme come to mind: Anselm Kiefer’s library – The High Priestess: Land of the Two Rivers (1985-89) – and Micha Ullman’s underground Library in the Bebelplatz in Berlin (1995). Both these works are in fact memorial monuments – one for the cradle of civilization in Mesopotamia, and the other for the burning of the books on 10 May 1933. In both these amazing works the concept of “the library” as a storehouse of human knowledge, research and creation seems to collapse, and what remains of it is testimony that all that is present cries out for the absent.
On this background, the libraries that Tali Amitai-Tabib has photographed – museums that still hold and preserve what humanity has managed to store in the course of its existence, despite its existence – are viewed with a sense of relief and well-being. Amitai-Tabib’s libraries are empty of users. Man is not present there, and only the receptacles designed to contain him (a displaced chair awaiting its occupant) and other appliances that serve him (a table-lamp) attest that he has not arrived yet or perhaps has already left. Nonetheless, the appropriateness of human culture is chearly discernible in them: the library spaces are punctiliously organized, with balanced, central symmetry, while the network of vertical and horizontal lines of the infinite avenues of shelves seems to line up with frame of the photograph. The light that returns through the windows and doors focuses the architectural arrangements that enable it to penetrate inwards, and creates a slight tremor in the closed space. The exterior, however, almost always remains outside the bounds, and the sense of enclosure and blocking hovers over all of the works.
In most of the photographs in the series, Amitai-Tabib manages to hide the laden shelves and the other details of the library, so that they are assimilated and swallowed up in the space, which becomes a kind of sacred place that silences with awe anyone who treads there; and still, the enigmatic atmosphere of the place seems to be directed outwards, to the mysterious and the visionary. This oscillation between a sense of being trapped with no exit and a structured light that creates an infinite tremor is know to us from another library space, one that is considered to be one of the great achievements of Renaissance architecture: the Medici Library in Florence. The famous stairwell of this library profoundly influenced Mark Rothko’s conception of “the sublime”, and inspired the murals that he planned for the “Four Seasons” restaurant in the Seagram Building in New York, immediately after his return from a visit to Florence in 1959: “After I had been at work for some time, I realized that I was much influenced subconsciously by Michelangelo’s walls in the staircase of the Medicean Library in Florence. He achieved just the kind of feeling I’m after – he makes the viewers feel that they are trapped in a room where all the doors and windows are bricked up, so that all they can do is butt their heads forever against the wall”.


Mordechai Omer

From the foreword of the Tel Aviv University Libraries Exhibition Catalogue (Genia Schreiber University Art Gallery, 2001)




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