Creating a Book Archive

Words By sheila lam

Time and again, nothing impacts my work and creative mind quite like a good reference book. My favourite solo activity in Vancouver is visiting the Vancouver Public Library’s Central Branch downtown. On the 5th floor, there are 3, maybe 4, tall shelves of reference books on art and design. I can easily pass an afternoon flipping through an archive of books on Joan Miro or the history of Japanese ryokans. So when photographer Donnel Garcia told me he was starting his own public library, I was immediately drawn.

The aptly named Book Section lives inside his shared studio with local clothing designers, alterior. A former banquet hall, Book Section invites readers through the cutting tables of Japanese ripstop cotton and sewing machines to the iconic Niels Gammelgaard for Ikea shelves and table. There, you’ll find a growing collection of over 120 books and magazines focused on art, design, and hobbies. From George Nakashima’s The Soul of a Tree to The Wu-Tang Manual to Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985, and much in-between. “I think we’ve grown accustomed to buying these types of books to accent an interior space,” Garcia writes about the project. “It tells something a bit about your interests and your personality. Of course, they’re more than just something that collects dust on shelves and coffee tables. It’s knowledge, ideas and inspiration.”

In a working Google Sheets document, Book Section allows you to take home on loan a book or two for consumption just as you would the city’s public library. It also conveniently tracks what is currently in and out of the Book Section. There’s also a digital scanner available for anyone keen to copy a few pages for their own. “I’ve been collecting a lot of these books and magazines for inspiration and reference for my work as a photographer,” Garcia says. “Since sharing this space with alterior, I thought to extend my home library into this studio. Share these books that inspire me every day for people who want the same for themselves. To keep contributing to this community we’ve been building in our studio and myself individually as a photographer.” Libraries are, in my opinion, one of the most vital resources a city can have. Book Section is no exception.

Across the country, on the East Coast, a similar archive has held my attention for some time. Wrong Answer was founded by Geoff Snack, Associate Strategy Director of AKQA and Sessional Instructor, Digital Media at OCAD University. Billed as an ongoing project focusing on retail and community, Wrong Answer looks to the past to explore design that got it wrong in precisely the right way. “My focus is on things from the past that felt ‘wrong’ or radical at the time, but in retrospect were really prescient and important,” Snack explains. “Memphis Milano or Ed Ruscha’s artist books are both great examples of this.”

They’re more than just something that collects dust on shelves and coffee tables. It’s knowledge, ideas and inspiration.”

– Donnel Garcia

Taking note of the lack of bookstores in Toronto dealing in vintage and rare material, Snack decided to do it himself. “When I started Wrong Answer most bookstores were focused on new books or fiction. I started by hosting a small sale from my collection of books and ephemera at my loft In Toronto,” Snack says. “I’m now in New York, where I’m continuing to do physical activations while selling material online. Physical activations are a big part of this because they allow people to discover things or make connections they might not have by how items are placed or arranged in a space.”

The retail side of Wrong Answer has seen hundreds of archival books pass onto new owners. From works of Donald Judd and Enzo Mari to 1972s monographs on Underground Interiors and Rolling Homes to some truly unique prints like Of Muppets and Men: the Making of the Muppets Show and Mass Transit: Documentation of Performance/Sculpture in the New York City Subway System During Rush Hour. Beyond retail, he has hosted several community projects like artists’ exhibitions and a pop-up reading room inside Livestock’s Toronto flagship. He has also created a limited series of Noguchi-esque sculptural bookends and ashtrays. “I’m interested in learning about art, design, and culture first and operating as a bookshop second.”

There are few more satisfying things than coming across a great book resource. On my travels, I’m often guilty of lugging back a book or more despite constantly trying to pack lightly. The first to run across the street at the sight of an independent bookshop, a visit to Book Section or wherever Wrong Answer may be will always top my lists in those cities.

Photos by Donnel Garcia of Book Section. ■


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