Follow Us or Subscribe to the Feed

RSS ReaderAdd to Google Reader or Homepage Subscribe via email

AddThis

Pin It!

Saturday, March 14, 2020

The muse of displacement: Edmund de Waal’s ‘library of exile’

(3) The muse of displacement: Edmund de Waal's 'library of exile' | Financial Times
Nice project on Exile from Edmund de Waal, author of The Hare with Amber Eyes, now showing a the British Museum in London. 

The predicament of the Exile is "as if a thread has been unspooled from the homeland to the land of exile, continually tugging the expatriated person out of time and place."

The muse of displacement: Edmund de Waal's 'library of exile'

A migratory installation explores how the loss of homeland has inspired and encumbered writers

Edmund de Waal installation at the British Museum, 11th March 2020. Photo by Greg Funnell.
Edmund de Waal's installation 'library of exile' at the British Museum in London © Greg Funnell
Edmund de Waal installation at the British Museum, 11th March 2020. Photo by Greg Funnell.

"Books brought from Odessa and Vienna, sent from dealers in London and Zurich, his lifetime of reading, are taken off the library's shelves and sorted and packed into wooden crates." Thus Edmund de Waal's elegiac account of the "confiscation" of his Jewish great-grandfather Viktor's library. Its theft by the Nazis in 1938 foreshadowed a new era of displacement, including that of Viktor himself, who fled Vienna for England with his family.

De Waal describes himself as "an artist who writes", though when we meet at the British Museum a week before the opening of his new installation, library of exile, he tells me he finds it increasingly difficult to separate the two activities. Today he is equally well known for his books, especially the bestselling 2010 memoir The Hare with Amber Eyes, which includes the account of the fate of his great-grandfather's library, and his work in porcelain. Library of exile, which he has described as the most significant sculpture of his career, consolidates the themes of diaspora, memory and memorial he has returned to throughout his art and writing; but it also serves to reconcile those twin practices.

A roofless pavilion about the size of a shipping container, it is lined with shelves holding some 2,000 books by exiled writers. On the walls are also four of de Waal's vitrine works filled with porcelain pots. The library represents a kind of communal autobiography of the displaced person through history, from Cicero and Dante to the European émigrés of the 20th century and present-day author-exiles such as Elif Shafak and Aleksandar Hemon.

The installation is itself migratory, having arrived in London following sojourns in Venice and Dresden. From here it will travel to Mosul, Iraq, where it will remain. Readers are invited to write their own name inside volumes that are meaningful to them (each book has an ex libris plate for this purpose). The most-read volume is the children's book The Tiger Who Came to Tea, whose author, Judith Kerr, arrived in Britain from Germany in 1933. Visitors are also encouraged to suggest further books, which de Waal will add to the collection. "We're here for six months, so God knows how big the library will be at the end."

The scope of "exile" is certainly wide. The World Health Organisation estimates that 1bn people — almost one in eight of the global population — are living as migrants, of whom 68m have been forcibly displaced. From Syria and South Sudan to Russia and Colombia, exile is a defining condition of our time; but it is also as old as humankind itself. De Waal picks out a leather-bound edition of Ovid's Tristia, written in around AD8. In the opening pages of this archetypal exile text, the poet describes a stroll in the warmth of his beloved native Rome: "Now the public squares, now the temples, and now the marble theatres — ". Suddenly the tone darkens, the skies turn ashen; he acknowledges that what he has written is only a memory, for he is writing from Tomis on the Black Sea, 900 miles away from Rome, where he has been banished for an unnamed crime. The violence of that transition, from the comforts of the metropolis to windswept barbarian misery, is one committed by Ovid's own memory.

It's a predicament that the late Edward Said understood: "The exile exists in a median state, neither completely at one with the new setting, nor fully disencumbered of the old." It's as if a thread has been unspooled from the homeland to the land of exile, continually tugging the expatriated person out of time and place.

See the whole article only here : https://www.ft.com/content/cf1daa42-6219-11ea-abcc-910c5b38d9ed#myft:my-news:page 

MasterSearch

Subscribe via email

Enter your email address:

AddThis