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Library Site-Interventions: Skarzenski-Smith, Maya

Creature Comfort

Geoffrey being bookish

Diana and Monty lounging

Fizza studying

Creature Comfort - Librarian's Statement

Maya's artist statement offers a uniquely narrative approach to her creative interaction with the OCAD U site-intervention project, almost as if she were writing a children's book. Her curious cast of soft sculptures that "resemble creatures around the Dorothy Hoover Library,' however, does give pause for thought: is this how librarians and staff are viewed by our student community: "friendly but strange"? Are we "wonks"?

Skarzenski-Smith definitely conveys a quirky, playful, and fun message, but it is far from ironic or satirically derisive. I have to admit that I was intensely skeptical at the project proposal submitted; however, detailed drawings were provided of the soft sculptures and their positioning throughout the library. I was convinced by this sense of intentionality: what may appear to viewers as unintentional cast-off toys--perhaps play things inadvertently left by a child using the library--are carefully considered. I see very clear messages that demonstrate keen attention to the themes I presented to students in my information literacy discussion with The Drawing and Painting course, Painting in the Expanded Field.

Libraries are about access to ideas: the amoeba-like creature symbolize the multitude of proto-ideas that are waiting to be discovered in our collections. Libraries not just about books, but ideas that may as yet be unformed.

Ideas are growing organisms: to borrow from S.R. Ranganathan's fifth law of library sciences, Skarzenski-Smith uses bio-forms that visually reference amoeba-like creatures. Incorporating the element of writing words on slips of paper to insert into pouches sewn into each of the library creatures offers a performative replication of "feeding" these protozoic entities with ideas. Scraps of paper abound in the library, with students writing our call numbers, keyword terms, random ideas, course work schedules, post-it notes, book marks; all ephemeral traces of the process of making sense of research; almost like a collage de-constructed to its separate base components.

Libraries are for people (not just librarians!): The most overt support for this message is that  Maya placed "stuffed animals" in the hallowed aisles of the academic library; stereotypically seen as a bastion of decorum and gravitas. She could have easily created artists' books to convey her message; however, these intrusion are unexpected and jolt viewers into trying to find some contextual rationale behind their placement. Furthermore, Maya strategically placed her soft sculptures in locations that demonstrate distinct research activities in library spaces:

  • the lounge area proximate to current periodicals: this is where autotellic exploration of current art, design, and cultural practices can be experienced through our curated collection of magazines, gallery newsletters, newspapers, academic and professional trade journals. Although the occasional patron will use our Herman Miller Eames sofa to catch up on sleep, this area permits a relaxed, self-directed area to help develop all levels of creativity from technical and professional practice, to incubation of ideas; inspiration to critical evaluation and an assessment of one's current projects under development.Given the slower pace of usage in this area, the presence of Diana and Monty on the couch were welcomed pillow-like additions to this space.
  • the bookshelves, which are sites of more directed, focused research needs and information retrieval; oftentimes, access to the print collections has been mediated by searching the catalogue before venturing in the stacks. Seeing Geoffrey installed in the NB sculpture section offers an unexpected and possibly unwelcomed addition. I know that each time I passed by the installation in helping students  navigate the collection; I almost viscerally jumped back. Seeing an odd insect-like entity in the book stacks does tend to strike fear in librarian's mind!
  • the study carrels; Fizza's presence on the limited number of study tables was definitely not a welcomed sight. As this area requires students to be able to spread out their work papers, sketchbooks, large art books, and laptops, a cuddly stuffed animal in this practical workspace tended to raise the ire of students. Poor Fizza was moved variously, and likely received some less than kind notes in her pouch.

Each of the distinct reactions to the cast of library creatures clearly represents the "infinite semiosis" that occurs in library spaces. As described by Konelia Tancheva in "Recasting the Debate: The Sign of the Library in Popular Culture." (Libraries & Culture, vol. 40, no. 4, 2005, pp. 530-546), peoples' impressions of libraries as a semiotic sign are so diverse, contrasting, even conflicting, that they can only be assigned an openly phenomenological reading. For some, libraries are temples of knowledge, for others a home away from home; an escape, a place where time moves more slowly, a place of fear and intimidation, a place of confusion and inscrutable organizational schemes. For some, having stuffed animals in a library are a welcomed addition; for others a desecration.


Creature Comfort - Artist Statement

In this installation I have placed soft sculptures that resemble creatures around the Dorothy Hoover Library. These creatures are called “Wonks” and they are a kind of embodiment of creativity. They are friendly but strange animals. Wonks serve the library as a vessel for students to transmit ideas and thoughts to one another in an environment conducive to learning and research. Placing them on seats and around the library invites students to interact with them. The cavity of these creatures will hold written ideas. Ideas such as descriptions, book, and artist suggestions that are meant to inspire students studying.  They enhance the space as they make the room more inviting and playful. Beside the creatures recycled containers holding pieces of paper, pencils and instructions saying students can leave their own ideas inside the creatures.

I am inspired by the fabric manipulation of Nina Maskiell and the instructional nature of Yoko Ono’s work. Yoko Ono’s recent work, Riverbed, gave viewers a contemplative experience as they were invited to think about the symbolic interactions with the artwork. My work runs parallel to that as students share each others ideas in a space built for that.

Maya Skarzenski-Smith (Feb. 2019)

Works displayed composed of polyester and cotton blended fabrics, yarn, polyester filling, interfacing (Image credits:Maya Skarzenski-Smith, 2019)