STORRS, CT — The Homer Babbidge Library, the University of Connecticut’s principal repository of printed and electronic information, is home to literally millions of words — words that have been used to give expression to countless thoughts and ideas.
To celebrate the myriad forms that human language can take, Linda Foster, an artist from Goleta, Calif., is creating for the library a work of art that focuses on words, specifically those spoken by or written in the languages of UConn’s rich linguistic community.
Titled Hamlet: A Cast of Shadows, the project draws its inspiration from dialogue in Act II of William Shakespeare’s play:
Polonius: “What do you read, my lord?”
Hamlet: “Words, words, words.”
“Words,” translated into multiple languages and written in three-inch letters, will be cut from clear vinyl and affixed, upside down and reversed, to the interior of four west-facing windows on Level 3 of the library. Light from the afternoon sun will project the words as legible shadows on the carpet below. The seasonal rotation of the earth will cause the shadows to shift in shape and size, marking time and space.
Norman Stevens, the former director of University Libraries, has worked closely with the artist on the project. “Individual, distinctive marks of time and cultures, alphabets and characters represent our individuality,” he says, “while demonstrating an inclusive, common bond: our fundamental need to communicate.”
As part of the project, and to celebrate diversity, the University Libraries will conduct an informal census of the languages written or spoken by members of the UConn community. To complete the survey, go to http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=08C8G2m9Cag_3d_3d Participants will also be asked to contribute translations of “words” for possible use in the installation or in the dedication program.
Details of the census will be available on the web at www.lib.uconn.edu/.
Foster’s art focuses on artists’ books, or works of art in the form of a book, which she has created for some 25 years. She did a similar installation at the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1997.
“I’m looking at this project as an artist’s book and thinking of the window as a transparent page, with the text on the page cast out into the room as shadows,” she says.
“There’s a collective body of knowledge, ideas, and images that get cast onto our thinking, influencing how we think. Shakespeare has certainly cast a huge shadow on all the literature that has come after him.”
Foster will complete the design during the next several months.
The dedication of the installation in April will include a talk by the artist, and recitations of the dialogue between Polonius and Hamlet in many languages.
“This project is an extraordinary way of recognizing and celebrating our individual differences through the common denominator of language,” says Brinley Franklin, vice provost for University Libraries.
“The installation will enable users of the library to study and learn in an environment that celebrates diversity and the power of words to transmit culture over centuries of time.”
The new installation complements other works of art that celebrate books, reading, and information, both inside and outside Babbidge Library.
These include Dudley Giberson’s Storrs Murini Window on the B Level of the library, which represents the evolution of symbols from cave drawings to the alphabet; the massive Stonebook Universe, sculpted by Kubach/Wilmsen from Finnish granite, on the plaza between Babbidge Library and the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center; John Magnan’s carved wooden Pencil Book, housed in a display case at the internal entrance to Babbidge Library on the Plaza Level; Werner Pfeiffer’s Endangered Species sculpture, recently installed in Bookworms Café; and Ilun Averbuch’s Dove Tower and Steps to the Bottom of a Pyramid, with its allusion to the use of message-carrying pigeons, located on the quadrangle west of Babbidge Library.
Development and installation of Hamlet: A Cast of Shadows will cost approximately $5,000.
The library is seeking donors who wish to help support the project. Interested parties should contact Linda Perrone, director of external relations for the University Libraries, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 860-486-0451.
Contributions are tax-deductible and should be made payable to the Homer Babbidge Library Unrestricted Fund through the University of Connecticut Foundation.