Painted Grisalle figures carrying letters levitate through the vast space of this Los Angeles Public Library.
The letters make words, the words form quotes. The quotes from Kafka, Groucho Marx, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sonja Carson and others reflect on books libraries and learning. The Scribes appear to float throughout the building, entering colorfully from the childrens’ reading area mural and exiting out the 40 foot high atrium’s painted ceiling.
Designed by Killefer, Flammang and Purtill Architects in Santa Monica, the 25,000 sq. foot Mid-Valley Branch Library is a synthesis of ziggurat and gothic cathedral. After I was chosen as a finalist for This Percent for Art Project in 1994, I conceived this design of levitating scribes assembling the literary quotes from alphabetical building blocks. I was living in Richmond, CA and I built this box in order to transport the model to Los Angeles for my presentation to the panel of librarians, architects, and artists making the final judgement. The box was designed to fit in United Airlines cargo hold for the one hour flight ($69 roundtrip). With the straps affixed to lug it from the airport to the 10th floor Cultural Arts offices on Spring Street in downtown L.A. Awkward, but doable.
The day before I left, my friend Jim came by the studio, admired my ingenious construction, then asked me to give him my verbal presentation. I confidently replied, “Uh, well…um…needs work. He said “Good advice!” The next day, facing the panel of jurors, I explained how the library interior space be activated by the words and images. Putting the ziggurat on my head like a helmet, I said, “You have to be inside of the words and images.” Then I passed the model to the nearest panelist. The library is open. Since 1996.