“The Circulation of Knowledge” is a series of contributions from artist Dustin O’Hara about his collaboration with the Santa Cruz public library.
“I am interested in the boundaries of autonomous production, between where a project ends and when and with whom it begins. I am interested in citizenship, between conditions and expression. I am committed to the everyday and skeptical of institutionally rarified spaces. As an artist, I am interested in a socially engaged research-driven practice. I am interested in cooperative living, going on long walks, and the social recasting of cultural and civic infrastructure.
This essay reflects a traversal of living mythologies, a collection of moments and stories that took the form of a collaboration with the Santa Cruz public library system. The ‘material’ collected has been exhibited and archived, and within this writing I will narrate my process of engagement – a textual practice that attempts to solidify and simultaneously problematize the boundaries of where this project might begin or end. This is an attempt to frame the project in a way that foregrounds inter-dependent collaboration as it exists inseparable from an assemblage of institutions and unacknowledged historic actors.
While much of my thinking can be directly linked to a lineage of late-20th-century procedural and conceptual art practices that were concerned with an art-life relationship, I currently find the pragmatic question of how institutional and infrastructural conditions inform behavior and beliefs to be much more interesting. How do we conceptualize the relationship between individual agency, interdependence, and structural conditions? ‘Whether cast in aesthetic or social terms, freedom and expression are not opposed to obligation and care, but in fact depend upon each other…’ (Jackson 14). What stories will we hold onto? And what will be forgotten?” – Dustin O’Hara
This is the story of a retired cop car and librarians and library staff determined to go beyond the walls of the library building, operating within a political climate that has become increasingly skeptical, if not suspicious, of their function and value. Like a receding tide leaving some unlucky fish to dry, the public programs that were once considered staples of a modern democratic society are being systematically dismantled and forced to argue with each other for their own survival.
Santa Cruz Public Library Outreach is a small team that, like most of the library staff, starts their day at the library’s main office. But what distinguishes Outreach from the rest of the library staff is that rather then patrons coming to the staff and librarians, the Outreach staff goes to their patrons. Most iconically known for the Bookmobile, Outreach operates on a two-week to monthly cycle of visiting rural communities, low-income neighborhoods, senior living facilities, farm labor camps, and the county jail. Outreach uses its limited resources to account for the contexts that their patrons inhabit, making library services available to those that would otherwise not have access. Continue reading