A video discussion of Corinne Wasmuht’s painting, Bibliotheque CDG BSL, on display at the exhibition “Chaos and Awe: Painting for the 21st Century” at Nashville’s Frist Art Museum (June 22 – September 16, 2018), curated by Mark Scala:
Here’s a transcript of this discussion:
“Libraries aren’t what they used to be. Not long ago, we considered them as temples of deep knowledge and learning, designed to study what held the world together. Libraries aspired to preserve the greatest achievements of human thought and creativity. Our age of digital media and information shows little patience with the former mission of libraries. Thousands of books now easily fit on the silicon chip of a personal computer. Wikipedia offers more knowledge than you ever desired, refreshed day by day. Instead of traveling to libraries, we make them travel to us—and with us. Instead of leafing through card catalogues and wandering through dark stacks, we swipe and tap mobile screens to follow our curiosity.
Reading today, many lament, isn’t what it used to be either. Previous centuries celebrated reading as a very intimate affair. Good readers understood how to immerse themselves into the universe presented on page; they had no problems fending off possible interruptions. Readers today are believed to be fundamentally distracted and inattentive. They are unwilling to follow the arc of an argument across multiple paragraphs, have no time to pause and ponder the shape of a beautiful sentence. Today’s readers read on the go, allow hyperlinks to carry them from one text fragment to another, scroll up and down to skim possible meanings, in fact empower computers to do the reading for them.
Corinne Wasmuht’s painting Bibliotheque/CDG-BSL explores this new world of unbound knowledge and reading with great precision. The work’s title references one of the great libraries of the world, the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris—frequented over the past centuries by many famous intellectuals, poets, and artist. The painting’s subtitle refers to the airport codes for Paris and Basel, Switzerland: places of transitoriness, of ceaseless commotion; spaces no one calls home and scholars label as non-places. Wasmuht’s library is everywhere—and nowhere. What her painting shows is a free-flowing site of information designed for readers on the move, readers who have come to recognize the virtual reality of their screens as the primary portal to the real.
But here it is, the painting, right in front of us, based—as so often in Wasmuht’s work—on imagery found online and assembled into one untidy compilation, its elements pushing against the borders of the frame. Different layers of paint make it difficult to identify what we see, invite us to explore the work’s texture like a detective looking for clues. The painting’s enormous size begs us to inspect its busy surface at close range, to step sideways to investigate separate regions without ever being able to contemplate the whole. In this, Wasmuht encourages us to see her painting not just with our eyes, but with our feet as well, our entire bodies. Like today’s virtual libraries, the painting’s frame no longer pretends to preserve and hold everything together. Like today’s readers, we skip from one area to another and best experience the painting in a state of ongoing motion. And yet, Wasmuht illuminates that not all is lost amid the non-places of unbound knowledge and reading in our contemporary world. For this new world, as depicted in Bibliotheque/CDG-BSL, still offers one of the greatest pleasures good readers have always pursued: the pleasure of getting lost, of straying away from beaten paths, of expecting the unexpected and welcome it with a sense of wonder.”