WASHINGTON, DC.- Imagine coming upon a library where you could actually peer into your favorite books; where a copy of Lewis Caroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland had its own rabbit hole for you to gaze into with openings in the shape of hearts, spades, clubs and diamonds. Would it be a real library or a library without structure and logic?
M.L. Van Nice’s whimsical installation, The Library at Wadi ben Dagh, is just such a library. Comprised of altered books and handmade artist’s books, this exhibition invites the visitor to explore the richness of literature. The installation is on view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts from April 11 to November 6, 2005.
“M.L. Van Nice’s books inspire a different kind of reading than we usually practice,” says Krystyna Wasserman, Curator of Book Arts. “This installation forces the viewer to look at literary masterpieces in a new way; we find ourselves in a wonderland where everything is left to the imagination.”
Created by an anonymous character named Woman Doe, the books in The Library at Wadi ben Dagh are classified by recollection, associations, deductive reasoning, and curiosity. This site-specific installation imaginatively conveys the conceptual weight of such popular titles as James Joyce’s Ulysses, Charles Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Van Nice allows the visitor to see the books and the ideas they contain in a new light.
The library is an entire world unto itself - a private book collection of Woman Doe, who has since departed Wadi Ben Dagh, an imaginary place the artist roughly translates as the “dry gulch that is washed by the mountain.” According to Van Nice, “She is Woman because she is nurturer—has given birth … to the library; she is Doe because historically women have … remained anonymous.” Woman Doe has thoughtfully selected each work, reflecting her experience of the world. Therefore, the library does not have structure beyond the personal. As Van Nice explains, the library “certainly does not, could not, and would not care to … satisfy a Mr. Dewey. Woman Doe created categories that structure her reality, and maybe ours.”
Renowned for her imagination and her ability to create complex characters, M.L. Van Nice (b. 1945) incorporates image and word in her installations, artist’s books, and sculptures. Her innovative work is regularly selected for NMWA’s annual Book as Art exhibitions, and two of her artist’s books, The Swiss Army Book (1990) and Dinner with Mr. Dewey (2002), are in the museum’s permanent collection.