A site-specific installation and panel discussion

Toronto Reference Library
789 Yonge St, Toronto, ON M4W 2G8

May 6 - May 31, 2017

lat; 43.6719053
long; -79.3866865

Located north of Bloor and Yonge street, the Toronto Reference Library is a modern reimagining of the hanging gardens of Babylon. All five floors open onto, or into, the central atrium that extends up towards the skylights, which in turn allows natural light to spill all the way back down to the first floor. Additionally, the southwest and northeast corners of the building were cut off in the design process to create two new facades dominated entirely by windows. These facades give the illusion that the building has objected to the directional grid of the city, instead opting to welcome the sunrise and sunset into the space between the stacks. All of these architectural decisions culminate on the fifth floor, home to the picture collection―a collection of over one million images cut from books, magazines, and other printed matter. The amount of direct natural light in combination with the amount of analog photographic objects opens up a paradox. On the one hand light is a fundamental component to the creation of an image; on the other hand, it is also simultaneously the enemy of preservation. The employees of the Toronto Reference Library have clearly acted to combat this paradox by containing the images within steel filing cabinets, away from the sun’s rays, only to be opened to satisfy the curiosity of the public.

On Tuesday, February 4th 2014, the Digital Innovation Hub opened at the Toronto Reference Library. This opening marked the first instance of a free, and open, space entirely dedicated to the exploration of digital communication through emerging technologies within the Toronto Public Library System. However, more than a space filled with 3D printers, digital audio equipment, and flatbed scanners, the Digital Innovation hub came to represent a new way for the images of the picture collection to escape their analog death. Now when a drawer from one of the 77 filing cabinets opens, a series of mental images are created:

First, the analog photographic objects float up and over the fifth floor railing into the main atrium. Second, they begin to slowly fall, descending floor by floor, backlit by the wash of sunlight that surrounds them. Third, as they begin to approach the Digital Innovation Hub the sunlight makes the image almost translucent, the corners begin to curl and dissolve into a mist of digital information. Finally, as the stream of data settles on first floor it begins to flow and pool into each other―creating new, and dynamic, meaning for the intended digital mediation.

In light of the digital arrival, the Toronto Reference Library has become a vertical camera obscura. This process of image dematerialization is not only observable inside the Reference Library but can also be used as an interpretive key to understand the conditions under which these changes have occurred. Struggles with Images endeavours to connect historic events, and their effects on image culture, by using network theory as a way to highlight the network’s ability to not only reflect culture, but also act as a window into the conditions that lead to the production of culture.

Reading List:

Call Number “709.71 M,” Location “Stacks Request Reference N-PA,” Status “In Library.”
Call Number “759 BON BON,” Location “Arts 5th Fl Reference Open Shelf,” Status “In Library.”
Call Number “779.0973 M39,” Location “Stacks Request Reference S-MR,” Status “In Library.”
Call Number “700.285 B58,” Location “Arts 5th Fl Reference Open Shelf,” Status “In Library.”
Call Number “840.90091 T79,” Location “Storage,” Status “Storage.”

Works Cited:

Situ, Xiao. “Emily Dickinson and the Poetics of Glass,” Material Culture Symposium for Emerging Scholars. University of Delaware: 2012.