The Library of Unread Books

The Library of Unread Books is an itinerant library initiated by Heman Chong and Renée Staal. It is a living reference library with a collection of over 700 titles, that traces the perimeters of knowledge and reflects on notions of access, excess and the politics of redistribution.

Every single book you find in the collection was once private property and has been donated by an individual who did not read it when it was in their possession.  Contributors to the growing mobile library receive a personalised library card and a lifetime membership. The Library of Unread Books brings to light these once-hidden-away titles to emphasize shared knowledge. The books, which are accessible to anyone who can visit the library sites, work to create a commons.

The books of The Library of Unread Books are arranged randomly and in stacks, in a setting that encourages visitors to feel at home and re-arrange the books according to will and desire. Reminding us that a (private) library is both a means to an end and a research tool rather than an accessory, Umberto Eco famously called for an “antilibrary” made up of unread books. The novelist and scholar argued that read books are far less valuable than the unread ones and that a library should contain as much of what one does not know as finance might allow. “You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly.” In the case of this library of unread books, access to knowledge is not contingent on finance, and so the books are reverted back to a common resource pool.

Opening:
November 16, 2019 at 5:00pm featuring a talk with Heman Chong.
The programme also features free ongoing reading groups in English and Arabic with a selection from the donated materials. The schedule will be announced shortly.

To donate your unread books, follow the instructions listed here.

Heman Chong is an artist whose work is located at the intersection between image, performance, situations and writing. His practice can be read as an imagining, interrogation and sometimes intervention into infrastructure as an everyday medium of politics. His work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at Swiss Institute New York, Art in General, Artsonje Center, Rockbund Art Museum, South London Gallery, Het Nieuw Instituut, Weserburg Museum, amongst many others. He is currently working on a novel, The Book of Drafts, which will be published by Polyparenthesis in 2020.

Renée Staal co-founded The Library of Unread Books with Heman Chong in 2016. She is currently working at National Gallery Singapore and has worked at art institutions and architecture practices such as Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). She has also contributed to numerous artist-run projects in The Netherlands.

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