Wednesday, 25 March 2015

The Homeless Library - Introduction

Jeni McConnell writes:
Thursday was a very new day; a day of new experiences, new people and 
a new place.

I drove over to The Wellspring in Stockport to work with Lois Blackburn, 
one half of arthur+martha for their project, The Homeless Library.  
The Wellspring centre is a charity organisation which provides 
help and support for people who have become homeless.

Lois and Philip are working here with people who visit the centre, 
gathering stories of lives past and passed, spending time quietly listening 
and carefully documenting the words of others. Checking, making sure, 
being careful that the written words express the story as it is given.



I've seen mine, on the internet.

Does it say what you wanted it to say?


Before I heard about this project I haven't ever given much thought 

about people being homeless, home-less; without a home.  It makes 
me question my own thoughts, challenging my embedded ideas and 
ideals.  Yes, I've bought the Big Issue a few times before, but I can't 
ever recall giving money when asked by someone on a street.  
Avoiding eye contact, finding something else to be interested in.

I really wasn't sure what to expect, but I was excited and partly curious 

about what the day might bring.  I was a little nervous too, but that 
dissipated very quickly.

Philip was away, so it was just Lois and I for our first day of working 

together.  Laden with old library books, charity shop novels and 
two large boxes of sculpted books, all contained and strapped in two
shopping bags on wheels, we unpacked and laid out my work on the 
radiators for people to see what we would be doing.  We sat together 
and I begin to show Lois how to fold square cut books.


The folding is quite simple; straight to the spine, or at an angle.  

The challenge comes when you have done a few pages; the spine 
begins to thicken, causing it to curve back on itself.  You being to 
feel that you need more fingers than you have, some to hold back 
the already folded pages, some to fold the next page, some more 
subtly to ensure that the fold goes right into the spine.

One gentleman collects a square cut book section from me to have 

a go on his own, at another table. As he nears completion each time 
I offer him another, each time bigger, showing him the new 
technique and letting him try.  He completes three books, each with 
a lovely beaming smile.  His facial expressions and manner are 
encouraging; there appears to be something enticing about the 
repetitive pattern of folding, the fine handling of thin pages of 
paper, construction or manipulation techniques that appear 
familiar to him.  He appears relaxed and comfortable, concentrating 
on his task, almost distanced from his surroundings and situation.

I cannot help but just sit there and smile as I watch him work.

The day was full of contrasts; kind gestures, nervousness, 

delight, frustration, worry, fun, laughter, care and support.

At one point I sensed a timid, cautious presence, perhaps a yearning 

for invisibility, wanting to be anywhere else but there; eyes looking, 
eyes watching, eyes averted, eyes wary.

"Would you like to have a go?"

"No, no thanks, not me."

The Homeless Library is a project devised by arthur+martha to document the heritage of homelessness using interviews, artworks, poetry. It is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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