Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Artist Interview with Chris Cobb by Suzanne Kleid

Recently my daughter, Hillary, a professional organizer spent 8 (yes 8 hours) going through my books shelves, cleaning and aligning them to be more user friendly and beautiful. I am a lucky mum. For a year I've been toying with the idea of taking each book from the shelf, considering it's worthiness for my collection, donating or keeping it. If I keep it then it gets covered with white paper and labeled with it's contents. Wouldn't that be beautiful? My books would bring such light to the room. Maybe I just need a team of 15 friends to do it with me some night. Volunteers? You know I'm not kidding. In researching this rainbow aesthetic I see so often in art, design, and decorating I came across something on the McSweeney site that I'd like to share. I'm a huge fan of McSweeney anything. And this interview with Chris Cobb by Suzanne Kleid is really worth a look. He rearranged a whole bookstore by color. And of course, being the wish it was all perfect, but not really, virgo that I am, the name of his project, I fell in love with.


There Is Nothing Wrong in This Whole Wide World.



Q: When did you originally think of the idea for this? What made you decide to do what you're going to do?
A: I wanted to make something that I didn't think would exist anywhere, and that nobody would ever make, that I couldn't go anywhere in the world and see it.
Q: And tell us what it is that you're going to be making.
A: Well, I was thinking a lot about places I've been inside dreams, where I'm familiar with a building or a room, or like when I'm in a house in a dream and there are combinations of things in the house that don't exist in reality. So I wanted to do this project, where I have a giant bookstore full of books, and instead of them all being organized normally, they'll all be organized in rows of color. Through some kind of herculean task, some kind of massive effort, to change the entire space into something that you would see in a dream.
Q: So you are going to actually be doing this, you're going to be rearranging every book on the shelves in this bookstore.
A: Yeah, I had originally thought that I could do it by myself. A friend of mine owns a bookstore and after a year of negotiating back and forth he finally allowed me to take over his store for a week, and to allow me to bring in my whole team of like 15 people, which is what I estimate it'll take, maybe 20, and in one night—I've planned it out—if we stick to the guidelines, we can completely change the store. With Andrew [McKinley, the owner of Adobe Bookshop], it took a year of me being around and gaining his trust before I could get to this point, where he would allow this to happen.
Q: Which is pretty crazy, when you think about it.
A: Or inspired. One person's crazy is another person's inspiration.
Q: So you think you can do this all in one night? How are you going to do it?
A: I'm really grateful for the fact that when the bookstore was organized, all of the shelves along the walls are exactly the same. I think there's seven shelves in every unit. So you can estimate the number of books pretty accurately. It's around 20,000 books. Because of how they're positioned, I can map them out and give coordinates for every book. It'll be, like, shelf 3, row 1. Each book will be given its own designation, so that after they're all taken out and rearranged by color, when it comes time to put them back I can just go back to shelf 3, row 1, or whatever, and I'll know exactly where they go.
Q: Because it's a piece of public art and because you're just rearranging books, there isn't a thing you're producing that can be sold, you know? You're doing this incredibly complex, time-consuming thing and it's only going to exist just to look nice.
A: Well, there are elements of the sublime and elements of beauty involved here that do more than "look nice." The fact that it's something you wouldn't see anywhere has the potential to make it a transgressive experience for some people. People who can appreciate imaginary things or imaginary places, and the power that those places have. Also, there's a lot about ceremony, I think, and ritual. Ritualistic acts. In some Native American cultures, if you make something, you have to then sleep with it next to you overnight, so that the object is transformed through your dreaming. Then it has this special power that it wouldn't normally have, and this is kind of like that same place, maybe.
Q: Because you're going to be transforming the bookstore overnight, right? You and the team are going to go in after closing, and by the time the store opens the next day it's all going to be changed.
A: Yeah, exactly. It'll be like in a dream. One day it'll be like how it is, and the next day when the store opens it'll be completely transformed.
Q: Your art in the past has been made out of materials that you wouldn't normally associate with art. You're working with books this time, but in the past you've made sculptures out of glue sticks and you've made sculptures out of mashed potato. What else have you done?
A: Napkins. Torn-up napkins. Recordings of streets.
Q: With the glue sticks, you carved them into copies of Greek sculptures, correct?
A: Yeah, there's the Laoco├Ân and the Nike of Samothrace, and Roman and Greek votive sculptures that I made in glue stick.
Q: You made faces out of the mashed potato.
A: Yeah, I had some mashed potatoes with garlic and peppers in it that I was making, and I thought I saw a face, or a potential face. I started playing with my food—I've always played with my food, I like to play with food—and I started to think, well, maybe I could make these mashed potatoes into sculpture. So I did. The things that came out of that idea were that maybe the mashed potatoes are talking to me, you know? And if they were talking to me they'd have to have a face. Those are called "Oracle." If you saw a face emerge out of your mashed potatoes, of course it would have to say something really incredible to you. Probably like foretell your future or your past. Tell your fortune. (softly) I don't know—I shouldn't talk about the Red Alert thing, huh?
Q: Why not?
A: It might sound too crazy.
Q: No.
A: OK. So, with another recent project, I was thinking about what chaos I could create just by using the color red. I looked around town and I realized that there are red curbs all over the city. I wondered, what would happen if I extended the red curbs and made them go down a whole block or a whole street? Where normally you could park, but instead I covered it all in red? Then you couldn't park. It symbolically extended the authority of the police, quietly. One night, I went out and covered up the curb, down one whole block, so it was all red. I took a photograph first, when the cars were parked there, and the morning after putting the red on the curb, I took another photo showing that the cars weren't parking there anymore. Just that little bit of red changed the whole order of the block.
Q: And it was red tape, which is symbolic also.
A: Yeah, if you painted it red you'd probably go to jail, but I felt I could get away with using the red tape. And it's also a silly metaphor for bureaucracy.
Q: How long was it there?
A: Two weeks.
Q: And nobody noticed that it wasn't a real red zone?
A: Not a single person seemed to notice, and nobody parked in the red zone. My red zone. I'm just glad I wasn't someone that had to park there. But it would be nice if everybody would get out red tape and cover up all the curbs so nobody could park anywhere.
Q: You have used the phrase "utopian gesture" before in describing this new book-rearrangement project. What does that mean?
A: The title of the project is There Is Nothing Wrong in This Whole Wide World. "Utopian" is kind of a loaded word, I guess, but my basic take on that whole concept is that—you know, it's good to pretend like things are gonna be OK. And it's good to pretend that things'll go well ultimately. Because in a lot of ways, you don't really have any choice. And if you can reconcile the fact that there's really no other choice than to believe that things will eventually work themselves out, you know, if you can understand that really that's the best way to be, then a lot of things can fall into place, and a lot of possibilities open up for you.
And [the book project] is going to happen after the election. Right now while we're talking, we don't know who's going to win the presidential election. Or who's going to win in the Senate or the House. And so we could easily go into a tragic direction, you know. But still, either way, you have to act like things will go OK.


  1. A look that I love, but could never do myself since I love my books too much, is taking off the spines in order to have the same lovely, soft, eggshell colored linen showing. It looks gorgeous, but is it going too far in the interest of decorating?!
    I would gladly come help you cover your books in white paper however.

  2. Inga I may just take you up on it. But have you seen my book shelves?

  3. I have not seen your book shelves, but how bad can it be - you just take it one book at a time right?