Voluminous structure to be book festival centerpiece
By Lou Fancher
If you have to live in a tent, choose one made of 50,000 books. You'll have shelter, entertainment and information about everything under the sun.
Lacuna, the public art project coming to Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park as part of the inaugural Bay Area Book Festival on June 6 and 7 resembles a whimsical circus tent. Or a spaceship made of literary leftovers.
Shrouded in Bay Area fog, Lacuna might resemble a Pantheon-like structure from ancient Rome. Less dramatically, the spokelike walls and fluttering ceiling fabricated with books are a practical decision made by festival organizers and large-scale public art specialists from the Bay Area-based Flux Foundation.
"The circular structure was really dictated by the space," says the festival's public art manager Victoria Rojas. "We wanted it in the park and we were told by the city that we had to be on the fountain space."
The dormant fountain has been a location representing free speech ever since anti-Vietnam war rallies were held in the park in the 1960s. Rojas brought her experience as part of the Black Rock Public Library community at Burning Man and the founder of a Banned Books Week festival to overseeing the project.
The Internet Archive -- a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization creating a free online library by scanning the world's archive of books, movies, music, images and websites -- donated duplicate copies of its books.
Flux built a temple at Burning Man in 2010 and specializes in collaborative art projects, leading Rojas to invite the foundation to work with her team of volunteers on the design and manufacture of the project's architecture.
"One of the most important aspects that the design needed to deliver was to give away 50,000 books in only two days," says Flux art director Benjamin Anderson.
Yes, the idea is for visitors to the all-free, two-day festival to walk away with a book in hand.
The festival includes 225 authors, panels, 150 exhibitors, food vendors, children's activities and more. The San Francisco Chronicle is a major sponsor and partners include the WriterCoach Connection, Raising a Reader, East Bay Children's Book Project.
"We as a society often see art as strictly hands-off.
"It's OK to look, but not touch," Anderson says. "One of the benefits of doing big art is that we get an opportunity to push that innate hesitation."
The 120 volunteers sorting the books ("You don't understand what 50,000 books is, until you've sorted them," Rojas says,) have certainly been hands-on. Working in a Richmond warehouse to categorize the collection into fiction, current events, Americana, sci-fi, romance, art, and other classifications, three-hour evening "sorting parties" became community gathering places in themselves.
"People loved the tactile part," Rojas says. "Most of us spend all day at computer screens, so moving around, sharing a casual meal, drinking wine -- people just showed an outpouring of giving."
A successful Kickstarter campaign had people who were less hands-on giving digitally.
It raised $11,200, a little over the stated goal of $10,000. A $7,000 Burning Man arts grant supplemented the donations.
Anderson says devising a repetitive, easy-to-teach fabrication process was essential for volunteers who will bring the components to downtown Berkeley on June 1 to begin final construction.
"We needed to drill holes in a lot of outdated manuals and books to up-cycle them into structural elements for the piece," he says.
In addressing design obstacles during the planning stages, he says Flux usually builds small models to troubleshoot and discover best solutions for their large-scale works.
Anderson, a graduate of Cornell University with a degree in architecture, emphasizes collaboration, sharing credit for Lacuna's design with Jennifer Blakeslee, Catie Magee, and shop leads, Aaron Dana, Jonny Poynton, and Paul Franke.
In building the pillars and shelves that form the skeleton of Lacuna there has been lots of experimentation and modeling to ensure safety, Rojas says.
Alcoves, and even the spaces that will be left open as books are removed during the festival, will allow shared conversations she says, functioning like mini, pop-up book clubs.
Disappearing books will be evidence of the project's evolutionary intentions.
"Eventually, I'd love to see this replicated in smaller form, like a children's museum Lacuna made with kids' books, or a university version with books by professors," Rojas says.
At the festival's end, remaining books will be shipped back to the warehouse, where Rojas says they'll wait for a future Lacuna or the next person to dream of life in a literary tent.