Banned Book Art: Tim Youd Returns to KVML

by Dan Dark on September 19, 2014

Los Angeles-based artist Tim Youd is bringing his Typewriter Series back to the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library as part of our Banned Books Week celebration (September 21-26). Youd’s series of diptychs are an artistic representation of the most basic shape and visual experience of looking at a book.

He has used literature as inspiration for his artwork for decades, and as he told us in a recent KVML interview, “At a certain point I realized that what I’ve been looking at this whole time was basically two rectangles side by side holding two smaller rectangles (the blocks of print), and thought it would be interesting to heighten that quality in some way.”

Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, September 2013

Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, September 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He types entire novels on the same two pieces of paper, one layered on top of the other, recycling them through the rolling feeder of a typewriter over and over. The bottom page becomes indented with the keystrokes while the top page becomes awash in black ink. After endless strikes, the paper begins to shred and ink leaks onto the paper beneath. He performs many of these works in public view, laboriously copying text in a location evocative of the author or their work: Bukowski in a Post Office, Wolfe adjacent to Edwards Air Force Base, Hemingway in his former writing studio, etc.

Youd views this series as a commentary on what he calls “The fetishization of the author and divorcing that author’s literary work from their marketing persona. It doesn’t matter that Hemmingway had cats, it matters that the guy wrote some very interesting work and we should spend time reading them.”

By recreating works from revered authors on the same model typewriter they typed on and in fitting venues, Youd is “fetishizing the fetishization,” and, as sort of a artistic double negative, flipping the view back on what really matters – the work they produced and not the consumer-driven ideas of where and on what device. Youd becomes both artist and media critic while memorializing the canonical works of great authors.

Youd’s Banned Books Week visit is not his first trip to KVML. In 2013, he created and displayed artworks with the texts of Breakfast of Champions (his favorite Vonnegut novel), Jailbird and Slapstick using the same make and model Smith Corona 2200 typewriter Vonnegut used to write those books – Vonnegut’s 2200 is on display at the KVML.

Youd is 26 novels into this project with 74 works left to complete. Next on his journey will be the KVML where Youd will live at the library night and day surrounded by banned books while he types the perhaps the most distinguished of forbidden texts, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 – a diptych which, upon completion, will summarily be set on fire and destroyed.

“[Fahrenheit 451] is not just for its time and place, it can speak across generations and time periods,” says Youd. “The idea that we can lose access to knowledge, even in a world with the proliferation of ideas available on the Internet, it’s very real today. We’re in a world where half the population lives in the Middle Ages in regards to free access of information.”

The banning, censoring or outright burning of books has a long history, from the libraries at Antioch and later Alexandria to the Nazi burning campaigns of the 1930s and 40s. Even our enlightened 21st century is not immune to such medieval responses as seen though the numerous burnings of Harry Potter novels.

While we didn’t discuss the virtue of English boy-wizards and J.K. Rowling’s prose with Youd, he did say “Banned books are usually the good ones.” While there is something to be said in regards to age appropriateness in all media (the written word included), Youd, who is father to a thirteen-year-old son, sees the importance in quality works of literature as a jumping off point for complex discussions with young minds yearning to understand their world.

Reflecting on a recent camping trip with his son where they listened to an audio version of another oft-censored book, To Kill a Mockingbird,” Youd used the occasion as “… a chance to understand why. There may be a legitimate concern [behind banning books], but the reaction is wrong. Instead we should ask what is the political issue that is at stake? What is being said? Why are we confronting this and why now? It’s a wonderful chance for dialogue.”

“Beyond literary appreciation, it’s a chance to have a discussion about society and our politics. I’m an artist, so I think I’m most true to the aesthetics of something. But I’m also a person, and that part of me wants to understand the issues from a political and social view point as well.”

Banning books outright, instead of answering the questions of why, is dismissing their ability to provoke thought on ideas of power, violence, exploitation and authority, let alone exploring the complexity of these issues. It’s a non-verbal statement that the conversations are too hard, the mind too fragile or the person too small to be able to handle it.

So it’s fitting that surrounded by banned literature in a library dedicated to a man who has created banned books of his own, transcribing a text that has been banned on numerous occasions for its’ questioning of authority and book burning, Youd will once again be playing the role of both artist and critic, a balance every good artist performs.

Though his “prison of banned books” does offer perks for any literary lover. When asked if he is nervous about living and sleeping in the library for the duration of this performance, Youd replied, “I’ll get a lot of reading done.”

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This is letter from Hugh Vandivier, who voluntarily lived 24/7 in the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library window during to Banned Books Week 2013 to this year’s live-in performance artist Tim Youd.

Dear Tim,

Congratulations for agreeing to voluntary confinement in the distinguished Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library for Banned Books week Sept. 21 through 26.

Let me first say that I’m impressed by your typewriter series as an impressive series of conceptual art. Seeing you work last year at the Smith-Corona Coronamatic 2200 on Breakfast of Champions, I get a great glimpse of what you’ll be doing all week behind the plate-glass window of the Library.

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Hugh Vandivier engages a visitor to Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library during Banned Books Week 2013

I’m sure the original resident, Corey Michael Dalton, can share some great insight from his inaugural captivity. As I reflect on a year since I sat in the window, I’m happy to share some things I learned to help make your stay as pleasant as possible.

First off, I imagine with your experience in doing this kind of thing publicly, but I found it hard to work at my laptop during operating hours. Be prepared to field questions about Kurt Vonnegut from visitors. Some could care less about the work you’re creating or the protest you’re making. They just want to know which book might be good to begin with if they haven’t yet read any Vonnegut.

People really love Kurt Vonnegut Jr. It’s evident by meeting the people who find this place. A lot of out-of-towners stop by or make a direct plan to see the place when they’re in town on business.

Maybe it’s a Midwestern thing or an avoidance of things out of the ordinary, but people would walk in and purposely not look over at me. The conversation starter was always the wall of books. Someone would find a book, usually a children’s book that they loved and marvel at how that was threatened. Actually, the wall of books is one of the best catalysts to start conversation with visitors.

I slept on a too-short futon in the window. That morning sun can be pretty intense! Strangely, no one bothered me or woke me up.

I always felt that I should have been doing more performing in the window. You’re a performance artist, so I’m sure you know what I mean. If they’re intending to use the webcam, which I called the “Panda Cam,” make sure the audio is off! It wasn’t last year for the first half hour, and I hope I didn’t say anything stupid. I brought a small whiteboard to scratch out messages or let people know when I was getting food or using the facilities. It’s easy to forget that you’re online, and that thought for me was as strange as the prospect of being on cam.

I actually did have one performance on the cam. For music, I’m not a fan of Indianapolis radio. So I’ve been a listener of KEXP in Seattle for a while. Their weekday morning DJ always plays a “Friday Song,” a catchy tune called “Show Me” by Mint Royale. So I emailed the DJ, explained what I was doing, and said I’d dance on the webcam to the Friday Song. The streaming reaches an international audience, so I my awful dance might have garnered the Library and Banned Books Week some unusual attention. Plus, as I was dancing, I jumped on a small ottoman which slid from under me almost landing me on my keyster!

Who knows? Maybe they should leave the Panda Cam audio on.

Local weather becomes completely irrelevant. I can tell you the forecast for the week: 69 degrees for the high and 69 degrees for the low. Be careful what you wish for. After suffering for a week in the window to witness the prettiest late spring/early fall Indiana weather on record, I was really looking forward to my release, feeling the sun on my face and taking a deep breath of fresh air. Too bad the occasional downtown funk was in effect when I took my first inhale. Yuk!

The stationary exercise bike I borrowed from Angie’s List was a great call, though I wish I would have used it more.

Oh, and I’m sure you’ll appreciate that the shower is in the basement.

Best of luck in your week’s captivity.

Sincerely,

Hugh Vandivier

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Freadom to Read 9.21-9.27.2014 ImageTo keep engaging program like this alive during Banned Books Week, we need your support. Please make a contribution to our Power2Give campaign…even $5 goes a long way. As a “thank you,” we’ve arranged some pretty fabulous Banned Books Week perks to those who donate.

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The Good News about Mitch Daniels & Howard Zinn

by Meghan Barich on July 23, 2014

banned-buttonOne year after emails from former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels attempting to “keep kids from reading Howard Zinn” revealed the living truth that censorship and banned books still persist in our country, good news prevails. It started conversations. It put people into action. It shined a light on the untiring need to protect our First Amendment Rights.

As The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library prepares for Banned Books Week in September, we’ve been thinking a lot about the events, emails and dialogue generated by the unfortunate display of censorship in our own Indiana backyard. We’re inspired by the people who stood up and spoke out against the now Purdue University president’s attempt to ban Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.

Here’s the good news about Mitch Daniels & Howard Zinn:

  • The American Historical Association, a nonpartisan group that sets academic standards of review and publication for historians nationwide issued a statement saying it “deplores the spirit and intent” of Daniels’ emails and considers the emails “inappropriate and a violation of academic freedom.”
  • Over 100 people filled a Purdue University lecture hall in November of last year to read and celebrate controversial written works like George Orwell’s 1984 and of course, Zinn’s A People’s History of the Untied States. Professors, students, and activists joined together for what they called a “read-in.”
  • Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) hosted a Howard Zinn Day last fall at which Vonnegut Library Executive Director Julia Whitehead and others spoke about Zinn and the importance of free speech.
  • A flurry of conversations commenced through social media channels. People exercised their Freedom of Speech, whether it was in opposition or support of Daniels. And that’s the spirit the works of authors like Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury and Zinn intended: bring controversial topics into the light and create meaningful conversations for decency.

Mitch Daniels is a highly educated man with success and influence in business, politics and academics. If censorship and threats of banned books still exist amongst his echelon, they certainly exist throughout the fabric of this nation. We saw this here in Indiana with one school district attempting to ban books, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five included, from an optional supplementary reading list. Fortunately, in this case, public comments were heard and no books were banned.

Our library continues Kurt Vonnegut’s fight against censorship and supports language and visual arts education through programs and outreach activities like Banned Books Week. To join us in this fight, consider becoming a member, making a donation or join the conversations taking place on Facebook and Twitter.

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The reviewer was wrong

by cindy.dashnaw on February 17, 2014

The Boston Globe gave the play Kurt Vonnegut’s Make Up Your Mind a terrible review. I was at a performance, and I think the reviewer—and much of the audience—missed the joke.

Playwright Nicky Silver created the script using four or five of Vonnegut’s many drafts (with permission from the Vonnegut estate). IMG_2864The theater then set the stage by greeting the audience as they entered with ’80s pop music—Duran Duran’s Hungry Like the Wolf, Prince’s Kiss and the like—and a set covered in Vonnegut-like drawings. The combination set a mood unlike any other that I’ve experienced pre-play.

The play follows Roland Stackhouse, a former telephone installer who poses as a therapist to help indecisive people make up their minds. Clients of Roland’s business, Make Up Your Mind Inc., are urged to stick to their decisions by an enforcer who will thrash them if they falter.

In typical Vonnegut fashion, the characters are often a mockery of themselves, but the audience can still empathize with them. Like Breakfast of Champions, the story reminds us that human life is sacred.

Vonnegut himself appears on stage to comment on the play’s action. Silver took most of the lines the character speaks directly from Vonnegut’s essays, so his words sound just right. Here the play fell a little short for me; although the character was smoking one of Vonnegut’s characteristic Paul Malls, his mannerisms seemed off. Maybe, though, this was because I’ve mostly seen Vonnegut seated, not standing, in interviews.

The play itself, however, was vintage Vonnegut. His signature black humor and wit permeated the dialogue. Yet, perhaps because it was a live performance, the cleverness seemed lost on much of the audience.

I often found myself the only one laughing aloud.

Perhaps the Globe reviewer and many in the audience had never read Vonnegut. It may be because I’m a bit of a wacko, but I think Vonnegut’s witty satire is easier to comprehend in print. The reviewer wrote that the play “leaves the audience with a sour feeling that the joke is on them.”

It’s too bad the reviewer missed the joke. Or perhaps this is just another case of misunderstanding Vonnegut or not appreciating his particular brand of humor.

After all, if you’re looking for “high culture,” you won’t find it with Vonnegut.

However, if you’re a Vonnegut fan looking to enjoy his signature voice, you’ll appreciate Kurt Vonnegut’s Make Up Your Mind.

That is, if it ever runs again.

 

IMG_2878Nicole Lowman doesn’t intend to offend you, but she probably will. Her perverse fiction, poetry and personal essay have been published by various small presses. She is pursuing a Master of Arts in English at Southern Connecticut State University. You can hear more of her ramblings on her blog and her website.

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Vonnegut transformed: A year of inspiration

by cindy.dashnaw on January 17, 2014

VanKirk-tic-web copy
A year ago, San Antonio artist Rikkianne Van Kirk set a goal: to read each of Vonnegut’s novels. That project inspired another one – one that’s coming to Indianapolis and the Vonnegut Library this month.

Just a few pages into the first book, Van Kirk began creating images in her head from Vonnegut’s prose. A Vonnegut novel became her constant companion … along with a black Sharpie for her illustrations.

Read her blog post about this creative process, and plan to see her work on Jan. 25 during our Third Anniversary & Civil Rights event.

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2013: The Vonnegut Library’s Year in Review

by cindy.dashnaw on January 5, 2014

2013 was great for us! Here are just the highlights:

JanuaryAnneliese Krauter and other German-Americans told us what it was like to be held in a U.S. internment camp with their families during World War II.

MMuncy2February – After turning 18 in basic training and 21 in Iraq, after drug addiction and a suicide attempt, Malachi Muncy (right) discovered writing and art.

March – Julia Whitehead, executive director, was invited to participate in the 2nd National Summit: Arts, Health and Wellbeing Across the Military.

Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune, from Night of Vonnegut 2013

April – Night of Vonnegut featured nationally known author and Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page (left) … and a special video speech by President Bill Clinton.

SeptemberTim Youd (lower right)performed and typed Breakfast of Champions in its entirety on a Smith Corona typewriter. Indianapolis writer Hugh Vandivier got “locked up with Vonnegut” for Banned Books Week 2013. Political figures, actors, writers and more read from banned books.

©2013 Tim Youd

©2013 Tim Youd

October – Local artists reimagined the covers of banned books. Their creations were sold by silent auction, with proceeds going to the artist and the Vonnegut Library.

Tim_obrien_2012

November – The first-ever VonnegutFest was a big hit! A variety of venues partnered with us to celebrate Indiana’s favorite Hoosier author. Tim O’Brien (left) took part in a  Veterans Reclaim Armistice Day panel, Mark Vonnegut and comedian Gary Gulman did Google Hangouts, and much, much more.

2014 is off to a great start already. Don’t miss a minute of it!

 

 

 

 

 

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We will miss your common decency, Andy Jacobs

by cindy.dashnaw on December 28, 2013

by Julia Whitehead, executive director
Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library

Andy Jacobs PhotoKurt Vonnegut often wrote about common decency and the need for it in our relationships, our communities and our nations. When I think of the people I have encountered in life who exhibit a great deal of common decency, many faces come to mind … people I have known and those I wish I could know.

One of these people who I was privileged to know is Andy Jacobs.

Andy was a husband, a father, a friend to many. Andy was a Marine and a Korean War veteran, the kind who had seen great horrors and came home with the wisdom and courage to stand up to any chickenhawk politician who wanted to put our troops in harm’s way.

Andy was a servant to the public as Indiana’s Congressman for many, many years. But Andy was a different kind of servant, one that I have difficulty explaining because I wouldn’t call it religious, yet his words and actions caused people to think about things ethically, thoughtfully, progressively and compassionately.

How many of us will be so relevant to our dying day?

(I could joke about the relevance of many of us now, but that wouldn’t show much common decency on my part, would it?)

Andy remained relevant through his dying breath. He will be relevant for years to come. And I feel so grateful to have gotten to know him. I feel grateful that he came into the Vonnegut Library and befriended us. I feel grateful that he claimed us enough to become one of our Honorary Board Members.

But mostly, I feel grateful to have known someone of such greatness who also had such an abundance of common decency.

 

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OBrienBook“I carry the memories of the ghosts of a place called Vietnam — the people of Vietnam, my fellow soldiers,” Tim O’Brien told NPR . “More importantly, I carry the weight of responsibility, and a sense of abiding guilt.”

O’Brien will be a featured guest at Veterans Reclaim Armistice Day, an event during VonnegutFest on Nov. 9. To prepare,  join the Indy branch of the Vonnegut Library Book Club to read and discuss O’Brien’s awe-inspiring book, The Things They Carried, at 11:30 a.m. at the Vonnegut Library on Thursday, Oct. 24. (The library doesn’t open until noon, so please enter through the main Katz & Korin glass doors.)

Everyone is welcome! Questions? Email bookclub-indianapolis@vonnegutlibrary.org.

 

 

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