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Interactive Art Installation Unveiled at Bennington College's Crossett Library

May 19, 2008

Bennington Bookmarks, a new collaborative art installation, will be unveiled at an opening reception at Bennington College’s Crossett Library on Tuesday, May 20, at 5:00pm. Bennington Bookmarks is the product of a collaboration between Bennington College visual arts faculty member Robert Ransick, computing faculty member Joe Holt, and nine Bennington students in their course The Augmented Library: A Site Specific Installation.

“This is a piece that exists, becomes real, only when people engage with it. I’m very interested in moments that transcend the everyday,” says Ransick. “I’m interested in making pieces that provide opportunities for creative experiences in places where you don’t expect it.”

Bennington Bookmarks are gently glowing beacons—conceived, designed, and produced by the class—that Crossett Library patrons can attach to books, DVDs, and VHS tapes to signal that somebody has left a message about the material. They are a mix of new and old technologies: three-dimensional computer modeled forms containing microcontrollers and LED lights, that are attached to books by hand-sewn, embroidered wool felt bookmarks. Patrons can access messages at one of three touch-enabled Bookmark Stations installed in the library. These stations connect to library databases, and, in this way, the installation functions as a dynamic, evolving portrait of the Bennington community over time.

The idea for Bookmarks grew out of the class’ year-long inquiry into how technology can enhance, augment, or change the dynamics of how people interact with information, space, and one another within a library. During the Fall 2007 term, the class studied artistic and design precedents; read a range of texts, from Jorge Luis Borges’ The Library of Babel to Adam Greenfield’s Everyware; closely examined and mapped library usage; and brainstormed ways to encourage new interactions in the library, focusing on books and our love of them. Bennington Bookmarks was conceived during this time.

“We wanted to make something that would encourage visitors to explore areas of the library they may have overlooked and to share their ideas about what they’ve read and seen,” Ransick explains.

During the Spring 2008 term, the class produced Bennington Bookmarks. Logistically complex, the project required expertise across design, computer programming, prototyping—even artisan skills such as cabinet-making, sewing, and embroidery. The class self-identified individual strengths and interests, which resulted in two teams: one focused on technology and the other on design. Ransick and Holt led the teams.

“It was serious work and real collaboration,” Ransick explains. “We would not have ended where we did if any of us had been working in isolation.”

In this spirit of exchange, the Bookmarks artwork is completely open source and available for anyone to adopt under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

This project and course is the first initiative of the Crossett Library Fellows Program, launched in 2007 as part of a $275,000 grant the College received from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in support of the library. The purpose of the Fellows Program is to create dialogues and projects that expand the role of the library within the Bennington College community, as well as highlight the importance of libraries in contemporary society. Next year, the Fellows Program will support a project related to commercial publishing and the following year, copyright.

“I was really excited by the idea of what could happen to the library,” says Oceana Wilson, director of library and information services, “if we brought together a diverse group of people with a broad range of perspectives.”

To learn more, visit the Bennington Bookmarks website.