From clutching my very first library card aged 3, to novels passed down by family and friends and given as gifts, books have always been a huge part of my life. I love the smell and texture of them:,crisply printed new pages waiting to be opened, or foxed, slightly musty, fragile leaves printed years before I was born.
They signify important times, good and bad, and are my escape from the everyday.
But I find it impossible to let go of any of my books. And now I feel weighed down by them, hemmed in by my overflowing bookshelves and in need of some space and new experiences.
Hayley Alessi ©2015
KINDLE-ing is a One-to-One performance about my love of books and an inability to let them go.
The piece is called KINDLE-ing as Kindles are electronic books and I prefer something tangible in my hand and love the weight, feel and smell of a book. Kindling is when you use scrunched up paper to start a fire and get the wood burning. It reminds me of the word ‘kindly’ or of just ‘being kind’ which is part of the process of the participant in helping me to release my books. Similarly Clearance/Making Space is a physical and emotional thing within the act itself.
Books, have always been really important to me, during certain periods in my life, a reminder of places I have visited, people I have known, my escape from the everyday.
But my bookshelves are overflowing as the books take over my home and life. There are so many books I even have to pile them in stacks above the neat rows of alphabetised spines, sub-organised by genre, cramming as many as possible into every available space and making it impossible to remove one easily. They are so full they have begun to migrate, in towering piles stacked everywhere that I have to step over, squeeze past and forever keep picking up as they topple over…
I need to have a clear out, sift through and choose: the ones vital for work or study, lovingly gifted tomes with personal inscriptions, unusual finds and unbound proofs sourced in charity and second-hand bookshops, the books where I queued for author signatures after poetry and play readings, childhood favourites and adult saviours. Not forgetting my guilty pleasure – travel writing, and the ‘crack cocaine’ high of play scripts…
I tried to do the whole, ‘one boxes for charity, one for keeps and one for maybes’ – and ended up sat encircled by books, distractedly opening and re-reading long-forgotten favourites and the ones I bought but haven’t even read yet – looking at 3 empty boxes. An impossible task.
I need help, to sort the inconsequential from what really matters: disperse 2 of my 3 copies of Stuart Maconie’s Pies and Prejudice to allow someone else to find out why it’s one of my favourite books, find out if anyone wants to read the books I haven’t got around to opening after 3 years of sitting on my shelf, and explain to me why anyone needs The Army Fitness Guide.
The performance involves a selection of books: from childhood and tatty now, carefully chosen but not really me ones, the gifts given on bad dates, frustrating ones I have tried to read several times but never gone beyond page 23, thoughtful and inspiring gifts and more problematic hard to let go of but need to for my own good ones… Including the inserts that came with them from charity shops: postcards/bus tickets/first night play tickets used as bookmarks, inscriptions to the person they were originally bought for, including the ones addressed to me. I will explain how each was obtained and what it symbolises to me. Then ask participants their own feelings around books and the things I have spoken about, invite them to share an experience of their own – and offer them a book to take away with them.
They can keep it or pass it on, recycle it, make paper jewellery, gesso the pages and make it into an artist’s sketch pad, etc. – but they must promise not to throw it into the rubbish to become landfill. It has to have a use beyond the room and performance.
The participant is given a statement of intent, to read and sign if they accept a book – to take away with them as a bookmark/reminder of the performance. In return I ask if I can snap a Polaroid Picture of them holding a book, as a physical memento of the transaction – which unlike digital photos, is a permanent snapshot of the moment of letting go.
Devised for Wrought Festival 2014 in Sheffield
And part of DNweekenD 2014 in Doncaster.
images by Gwylim Lawrence
and Hayley Alessi©2014