“Falling Into Place,” by Gretchen Schiller

Friday, 28 June 2013
12:00 pm
Roble 33

Blog Response by Rebecca Chaleff

Photo by Jamie Lyons9209914477_23ee68699f_o

For the past few days, Roble 33 has been a mystery to me.  I heard whispers about it: those who had volunteered to set it up expressed incredible curiosity, and those called upon to photograph the space exclaimed, “I don’t know what she’s doing in there, but it’s beautiful.”  I got several text messages telling me that I absolutey had to see it.  My interest was engaged, to say the least.  I tried desperately to find an appointment—the books were full, and only one spot remained.  I nearly sacrificed a friendship ensuring that I was the one to take this appointment.  I was lucky (and yes, we’re still friends).

I returned the next day to check in at the front desk of Roble, disguised from its usual function by a lace tablecloth and stacks of archaic-looking books and scrolls tied with ribbon.  I was checked-in, led down the hall to Roble 33, and told to stand in the threshold until instructed to do otherwise—until the “librarian” came to fetch me.  All I could see was absence.  Thick curtains sucked space and time out of the room.  I felt as though I were standing in a vacuum, a black hole in the middle of the Stanford campus.

A voice became audible through an invisible set of speakers.  Calmly, and with great tenderness, the librarian told me that she had been waiting for me.  The logical side of my mind explained that this exact performance was repeated many, many times per day: that the librarian told everybody that she had been waiting for them.  But the part of me that was instantly enrapt in the piece truly believed that this librarian may have been waiting years, even centuries, for my visit.  I did not know where she was from—what place, what era, what part of history—but I followed her voice.  I entered the room, and everything outside it disappeared.

Three spaces of the room were isolated with focused, red-tinted lights and videos that glowed on the surfaces of books, the insides of a cabinet, and the corner of the floor.  Everything smelled like roses, which, the first video explained, was on account of the hands we were watching, fidgeting with the memory of working for years in a factory that bottled rose-scented lotion.  I turned the pages of the book that told her story, watching the video of her hands spread from page to page, breathing the scent of roses, lulled into this tiny history.

Guided to a large cabinet, I stooped to look inside the bottom case and reached out to touch a soft fabric covered with powdered soap.  The librarian’s voice continually coaxed me into the sensual experience of the piece.  “That’s it,” she would say after an instruction, and I felt encouraged.  I signed my initials with a piece of chalk.  I carried its dusty remnants with me.  I peered inside the top of the cabinet, and saw another video.  I walked to a large chair, sat down, and held out my hands like a book; on their surface, I held the projection of another moving image, and in my palms another pair of hands sketched another pair of hands.  Touch upon touch upon touch—I was immersed.

I did not want to leave this room.  I wanted to remain in this mysterious archive of texts, images, touches, and smells.  I wanted to stay with the memories I was shown, and with their artifacts.  Alone in this dark space, I felt the chill of isolation, the danger of surrender from the outside world.  At the same time, I felt an uncanny connection with people and things that I would never know.  I did not know if they were past, present, or future.  I did not know where they had been or where they would be.  For a moment, I felt as though I did not know these things about myself.  In this beautiful manipulation of space and place, my perception of time was gently warped in relation to bodies that may not even be constituted as bodies.

I exited the room.  My ears hummed with the librarian’s poetry.  My fingers tingled with their memories of touch.  My eyes re-adjusted to the light.  I checked-out at the front desk and left a simple comment: “I know this piece was not created for me.  I feel as though this piece was created for me.”  I went about my day, dodging between papers and panels and performances, and the smell of roses followed me everywhere.

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