Books as artifacts, curated at Elsewhere

by Brian Clarey

The library at Elsewhere Collaborative in Greensboro consists of some 3,500 volumes, collected lovingly — and somewhat obsessively — by Sylvia Gray, George Scheer’s grandmother over three decades.

The books share the space at Elsewhere with the rest of Sylvia’s collection, an incredible hodgepodge of clothing, musical instruments, toys, appliances, gadgetry and assorted gear and whatnottery that made up the inventory of her thrift store that existed in this space until her death in 1997.

It’s all still there, but now it’s the raw material for the Elsewhere crew and the visiting artists who come in to create in this space, created by Scheer and his partner Stephanie Sherman back in 2003. There’s always something going on a Elsewhere, usually several somethings. So while Scheer works on a restoration grant for the two-building space and mural painters from Miami eat lunch in the kitchen and staff and volunteers hustle various exhibits and pieces from one space to another, I sit down among the stacks in the library and start looking at the spines of the books.

Ethan Gould and Wythe Marschall came down from Brooklyn, NY last week to bestow order on this collection of books, which before their arrival was sorted not by subject and author, but by color.

Gould and Marschall are representatives of the Hollow Earth Society, described as “a cabal of aesthetic scientists, writers, artists, pataphysicians, and philosophers who create fake science in order to open up new discourses about real science.” And their residency at Elsewhere marks a near-perfect synthesis of whimsy, scholarship and source material.

“This whole space is a library,” Marschall says. “A library of objects.”

In the digital age, Gould says, books are more than just pages with words. They are artifacts. When every story ever written can be accessed with a laptop and an internet connection, the notion of a finite collection of books is a quaint vestige.

“All library spaces are now museum spaces, to a certain extent,” he says.

Elsewhere’s modest stash of 3,500 books defies easy categorization: Ripley’s and Roget’s, frayed hardbound volumes ands flimsy paperbacks, complete sets and random strays, novels both full length and condensed, manuals and texts and pamphlets and periodicals.

Gould says they will “activate” the space by coming up with a coherent way to organize the books — definitely not the Dewey Decimal System, but not completely arbitrary either.

“We’re trying to strike a good balance between order and serendipity,” he says.

In the collection are a couple hundred volumes of the Little Golden Book children’s series begun by Simon & Schuster in 1942 — fairy tales and fables mostly, with offshoots into Disney and the Children’s Television Workshop. They’re just stories, but they do amount to more than words on a page.

They elicit a visceral response from me. I read these books when I was a child. So did my mother. And so did my kids. I want to put down my notebook, sit on the floor and read every single one of them. 

“There’s still a lot of value in a book,” Marschall says. “Part of it is the object value. How cool is it to hold it in your hands?”

wanna go? Elsewhere Collaborative

66 S. Elm St., Greensboro