The current Rooms of Wonder exhibition, which closes this Thursday, April 17, continues to attract enthusiastic viewers in its last weeks and days. On Saturday April 7, participants in the graduate student conference “Making Knowledge in Medieval and Early Modern Literary Culture”—a collaboration between UNC and Kings College, London—streamed into Wilson to see the show with the expert guidance of Professor Jessica Wolfe, who spoke at length about some of her favorite books on display.
Then the large group moved to the Pleasants Family Assembly Room to hear Dr. Pamela Smith, Seth Low Professor of History at Columbia University, deliver the conference’s keynote address, “From Matter to Ideas: Making Natural Knowledge in Early Modern Europe.” Professor Smith examined Renaissance mining and metalworking and the codification of that industrial and artisanal knowledge in Early Modern manuscript and printed books, such as the woodcut-illustrated editions of Georg Bauer, or Agricola. The lecture, one in the English & Comparative Literature Department’s Critical Speaker series, is available in full in video at their site.
The picture above, while illustrating Professor Smith’s lecture, also demonstrates how strangely distorted the experience of books can be when mediated by modern digital technology. So do listen to (and watch) the lecture, but come in one last time if you can to behold the marvelous printed books lent by alumna Florence Fearrington for Rooms of Wonder: From Wunderkammer to Museum, 1565-1865.
On Saturday March 29, the Modernextension Dance Company demonstrated the vitality of rare books in a multimedia dance program, which was partially inspired by Abeceda, a classic work of Czech modernism recently acquired by the Rare Book Collection. The company, directed by Heather Tatreau, performed their “Haunted” program to a full-capacity audience, who were encouraged to change their vantage points during the seven dance pieces, in order to experience different views from within the University’s historic Gerrard Hall space.
Vítězslav Nezval’s Abeceda, or “Alphabet,” was the inspiration for the piece “Ghost,” choreographed by Wilson Library employee and Modernextension Dance Company member Matt Karkutt, and “To the Letter,” in which five dancers created solos in response to the book. Abeceda, published in Prague in 1926, shows dancer Milča Mayerová enacting letters of the Latin alphabet, opposite Nezval’s poems. The noted Czech graphic designer Karel Teige is responsible for the illustrations, which manipulate photographs by K. Paspa.
Karkutt’s choreography and the solo dances effectively exploded common conceptions of the static nature of letterforms and books. Dancers mimicked Mayerová’s poses and spelled out words, with images from the book projected behind them.
It was an evening of forceful performances, with a great vibe. The Rare Book Collection hopes for future collaborations with other artists on campus. Indeed, the RBC considers itself a museum in the very best sense of the word: in it, the muses are at work. All artists–and every man is an artist–are encouraged to seek inspiration in the Rare Book Collection.