Sunday, 23 August 2015

Hiding Love Letters between Pages at the State Library

By Claire Rosslyn Wilson

More than just a celebration of a building, Capital: the Beginning of the Word evokes the enduring strength of words and ideas.

The stage is set, empty mics stand at the ready waiting only for three of Melbourne’s celebrated poets to breathe life into them. As we wait, disembodied  voices explain that ‘special something’ that one encounters in the company of books. One woman insists that there is a certain magic about the smell of old books - even though a science-minded relation tells her it’s probably just mould.

The three poets: Sean M Whelan, Alicia Sometimes and Emily Zoe Baker, State Library of Victoria’s Dome Centenary Fellows all, take to the stage and add their words to the mix. What follows is a night that celebrates the La Trobe Reading Room – the State Library’s gorgeous Dome. 

They begin by evoking the aesthetic pleasures of the library: the visible history of the building, the words of writers from far-away places now sitting on shelves in Melbourne, the feel of pages, the smoke breaks on the library lawn, the muffled conversations under the green lamps of the Dome. They each bring to the stage an energised and often humorous performance.

We then travel through history with Sean, accompanied by co-conspirator and musician Isnod, who contemplates the library’s architecture and the people who built the Dome; conjuring images of men listening to the roar of the football from the MCG on Saturdays from the top of the roof. Alicia  then muses on the past use of the library as a planetarium, a space in the middle of a busy city dedicated to dreaming about the stars.

Filippino writer Miguel Sejuco delivers a meditative performance on another aspect of libraries – silence. It is perhaps not common to find complete silence in contemporary libraries, but Miguel reminds us of the importance of capturing the quiet in our rushed lives. At one point he commands us to share the silence together. Perhaps the audience expected only a few seconds of dramatic pause, but the silence stretches. We hear the occasional burst of laughter from Friday night revellers, but inside the room is completely silent. We share the silence, possibly for only a minute, but it feels longer and more significant.

Emily closes the first half of this session with a love letter to the Dome, leaving us with an image of words from a hundred years of muttered conversations collected beneath its ceiling.

The second half of the evening sees musical performances in the Dome itself. We amble into the space and are tasked with the assignment of writing our own love letters and hiding them in books on the shelves. As we find a seat, a voice soars over our heads from a second level balcony. The aria expands to every corner of the space, such a big sound from the small figure on the balcony.

The Renovators take over from another second level balcony, and while they perform people hide their love letters. They don’t just pick up any book and thrust the card in, but rather they take the time to read the spines of the books, selecting a few to peruse before returning them to the shelf. It’s a relaxed setting, almost like a flash mob is performing a choreographed act for library patrons.

The third musical performance by Missy Higgins and Angie Hart starts off among the audience, with both of them walking in from opposite perimeters to the raised platform in the middle. Their voices, accompanied only by Higgins’ guitar, carry through the crowd with a power that holds us silent.

At the end of the night as I walk out through the eerily dark library, passing people sneaking off for a peak at the Redmond Barry Reading Room with the lights dimmed, I wonder if anyone will ever find the love letters we all planted tonight. Perhaps the next time you wander the shelves you will pick up a book and someone else’s words will fall out from between its pages.

Edited by Emmyrose Hobbs

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