'Portfolio: Ruth Sacks' by Cedric Vincent
People with an interest in libraries often speak about texts, books and writings as well the acts of collecting, preserving and (re)reading. It is their right to do so but to some extent they run the risk of reducing the ecology of sites of knowledge to signs or writing itself to sheer materiality. This is a risk that Borges unwittingly illustrates through his fable of a self-referential, 'total' library. In this story, the world of signs appears as a fortress of intertextuality. While it appears to be full and solid as long as one attends only to exegetic comments, it becomes empty and fragile as soon as one seeks to relate the signs to the surrounding world. Yet the library exists solely through its relationship to the world that surrounds the reader, as delineated by the light of a reading lamp. Ruth Sacks' library is not concerned by such limitations: the artist is well aware of this aporia and appears to be using it as her subject matter.
The library, conceived as part of her MFA (Master in Fine Art) degree at the University of Cape Town, features the bibliography of her dissertation (entitled Filling in The Gaps ). This was made up of predominantly Anglo-American art books. However, if you were to open one of these 'publications' you would be surprised to find yourself flicking through the pages of a trashy, grotesque form of literature: B-grade thrillers, erotic literature as well as game, puzzle and joke books. These are doctored books with false covers. They play with the artificiality of acceptable reading to conceal that of a guilt-inducing indulgence. Beyond the clash of high and low registers and the resulting derision of art writing created by Sacks' library is the fact that it enables us to consider the way in which we consume artistic and theoretical authority. Here is a random sample of the titles: Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object by Lucy Lippard, Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space by Brian O'Doherty, or Postproduction by Nicolas Bourriaud (a facsimile of which is exhibited here). These appear like ironic slogans regarding the fictional character of the artwork, as does Linda Weintraub's textbook, Making Contemporary Art: How Today's Artists Think and Work .
The condition of the artist and her relationship to knowledge and writing are over determined by South Africa's peripheral status which provides the library's initial context. The place South Africa occupies on the international scene means it remains cast in shadow. Thus, to study artworks from within the South African context entails considering them via their documentation: pamphlets, magazines, catalogues, websites. These are the forms of knowledge which Seth Siegelaub thematized as being secondary forms of information about an artwork. Far from being a mere farce, Ruth Sacks' doctored books also indirectly testify to the reception of travelling theories which can also find themselves watered down into trashy literature, reduced to a slogan-title or become fictions.
Vincent, C. 2007. 'Cabinet de lecture': Art 21. Numero 13. p. 42
(Translated from French by Anna Preger)