In The Reading Hall, Auckland-based artist Lisa Crowley investigates pre-digital modes of producing and attaining knowledge to consider what might be understood through their obsolescence. The exhibition features two new moving image works, one shot on digital video that documents the Vyborg Library in Russia and a 16mm film featuring a 1950’s linotype machine in operation. Through these two works, Crowley infers a connection between aspects of modernist architectural ideology and early 20th-century printing press technology. An association that might question how the medium of information influences both the meaning of knowledge and the experience of thought.
In 2010 Crowley travelled to Russia to document the Vyborg Library, a purpose-built 1930s modernist library designed by renowned Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. The building’s most notable feature is the Reading Hall, an impressive open-plan space that is flanked by bookshelves and lit by a towering ceiling of cylindrical skylights. Through a series of long takes Crowley documents the hall in use as it was designed - an ethereal contemplative environment for reading and thinking. In contrast to the quiet of the Reading Hall, Crowley’s footage of the print machine captures the busy physicality of the manual typeset process. Emphasising its industrial mechanisation, Crowley documents in close-up detail the glistening type and whirling cogs of the machine in operation. In relationship, the two works pair contemplation with mechanisation and spatial awareness with material tactility. A comparison that emphasises what cognitive and corporeal experiences might be lost in the virtual reality of current digital media.