Spring Sutras, an art installation by Karen Guancione that features thousands of recycled catalog cards from Rutgers libraries, officially launched on June 2 and is on display through the fall at Dana Library. The artist statement, remarks, and acknowledgments below are mounted on a poster accompanying the exhibition. Congratulations to all Libraries faculty and staff who helped make this installation a success!
“The Sanskrit word sutra literally means a thread, string or line that holds things together. It derives from the root siv- (to sew), and is related to suere in Latin, sew in English, and the medical term suture. It refers to Hindu or Buddhist texts, sometimes described as threads of wisdom or knowledge strung together.” (Wikipedia 2013)
Sutra began in 2013 when I was caring for my ninety year old mother who suffered with severe dementia. Normally, it takes months and marathon days of work to make an installation for a public space, but I could not leave my mother’s living room; I was well into an endless, exhausting, all-consuming caregiving hell. With the help of Rutgers University librarians I obtained boxes and boxes of the long discarded and forgotten hand-typed catalogue cards that I wanted to recycle for an installation. While caregiving around the clock in the house where my mother had lived for sixty-five years, I was able to work near her and string together the thousands of pieces of paper—a repetitive, meditative act that enabled me to continue making art. I named the installation Sutra. Caregiving is a process that requires compassion and, like art, sometimes tests the limits of patience and endurance. As I sewed, I was reminded of the piecing together of segments of all people’s lives, who, depending on individual or social circumstance, may themselves become long discarded and forgotten. The first installation using catalogue cards was created for the Noyes Museum and prominently displayed from 2013 to 2015.
In 2016 with the support of Rutgers University Libraries and Rutgers-Newark I was invited to create Spring Sutras, a site-specific installation in the John Cotton Dana Library. The public art project celebrates the nation’s largest and most varied collection of Japanese cherry trees in Newark’s Branch Brook Park and commemorates the city’s 350th anniversary. Thousands of recycled catalogue cards from Rutgers Libraries and hundreds of faux flowers were hand-sewn and suspended beneath a two-story-high skylight and throughout the fourth-floor space, which is also home to the Institute of Jazz Studies. Viewers are literally surrounded and touched by pieces of the hanging installation; the large-scale work transforms an entire area of the Dana Library.
In an age of digital information I have relished holding in hand the many singular pieces of paper that once spoke of a vast and impressive array of accumulated knowledge. The strung flower garlands celebrate new life and honor the old and departed.
Special thanks to librarians: Ann Watkins, Yoshiko Ishii, Michael Joseph and Grace Agnew for their help in procuring the cards from Dana Library, Alexander Library, Special Collections and Rutgers Law Library.
About the Artist
Karen Guancione has been awarded a Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation Artists and Communities Grant, four New Jersey State Council on the Arts Fellowships, a Ford Foundation Grant, a Puffin Foundation Grant and an Arts and Culture Exhibition Grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation. Her work has been exhibited worldwide and is in numerous public and private collections. Her interdisciplinary art includes large scale installations, public art projects, performance, sculpture, printmaking, papermaking, bookarts and video. She has curated many exhibitions, is an adjunct professor of art at the State University of New York (SUNY Purchase), Montclair State University and Middlesex County College and has been a visiting artist and lecturer at Pratt Institute, Rutgers University and numerous schools and institutions in the United States and abroad. For over a decade she has served as artistic director / guest curator of the annual New Jersey Book Arts Symposium and Exhibition. She is the first time recipient of the Erena Rae Award for Art and Social Justice. She collaborated on the critically acclaimed production of Cuatro Corridos, a multidisciplinary chamber opera about human trafficking that has been continually traveling throughout the USA and Mexico since 2013. She has just received a 2016 Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts for Works on Paper.
A Note on the Art of Karen Guancione
An artist, educator, curator, and longtime Artistic Director of The New Jersey Book Arts Symposium, Karen Guancione has been making books for over fifty years, and collaborating with artists and workers all over the world on installations that adapt traditional book making techniques. Spring Sutras continues a thread of her work that investigates the seam between art and value, here working with discarded catalog cards and plastic flowers to reach toward a vision of ecstatic renewal. Intriguingly, within the work’s central assemblage, a mobile hung from the Dana Library atrium, the catalog cards suspended like leaves or stars have been assembled in roughly alphabetical order, preserving and transforming not only the librarian’s tools of organization, but the original library vision: it, too, changes and becomes part of what is renewed and endures.
The artist gratefully acknowledges the support of Rutgers University Libraries and its staff for making this exhibition possible. This project was generously funded through a Rutgers-Newark Cultural Programming grant. Special thanks to Consuella Askew, Director, John Cotton Dana Library and Ann Watkins, Dana Arts Coordinator and Librarian for their administrative support and cultural commitment. A special note of appreciation to Jeff Baxter and Rutgers Physical Plant for expert installation assistance, Bob Nahory for technical advice, Bruce and Beverly Riccitelli for beautiful photography, Tad Hershorn for printing expertise, Mark Papianni and Yoshiko Ishii for lending a hand during installation, Michael Joseph for insightful writing and Roseann Reilly for help and comradery during many long sewing sessions.
Heartfelt thanks to those who have contibuted to this project in many ways: Grace Agnew, Mary Apikos, Matt Badessa, Isaiah Beard, Donny Bruno, Asha Ganpat, Gary Guancione, Angela Hidalgo, Liz Koepplinger, Susan Narucki, Jessica Pellien, Suzanne Reiman, Carol Van Savage, Lauren Vitiello and Sally Willowbee. Sincere thanks to the skillful Rutgers-Newark Physical Plant workers: Tony Sharo, Rob Pellicone, Bob Conklin and Dave Barbara, the Dana Library Custodial staff, and Rugers-Newark Campus Security officers.