The latest artist’s book acquisition for the Grosvenor Rare Book Room (GRBR) is Julie Chen’s Memento. Limited to 50 copies, GRBR was fortunate to secure number 49. Reflecting upon the March 2007 bombing of a bookseller’s stall on Baghdad’s Al-Mutanabbi Street, the metal locket holds a miniature book to demonstrate the delicate nature of books and words, and to remind us about the power of reading. Also held in the locket is a triptych commemorating the booksellers’ street. Done with jeweler’s precision in miniature, Chen’s work speaks volumes with its few words.
You live your life
careless of the liberty that you have inherited.
For you, the printed word has become commonplace
a substance that you take for granted
like the inalienable right to think your own thoughts
thoughts made visible through words on paper and then
thrown in the trash without consideration
a thing so basic that you are not conscious of its contingency.
You value the written word only abstractly
not as though this value could be translated into such things as
time or money or freedom from persecution.
What if with each word you ever read you risked losing
one millisecond of your life
And with each word you destroyed without thought
you risked bringing your community
one millisecond closer to destruction?
A book would be a force of reckoning
An object to he cherished and feared
The dividing line between the free world and the unfree world
This is the reality you pretend not to see
You focus instead on
We focus instead on
The idea of freedom for all
ignoring the simple fact that this has never been
the way things are.
What will it take to wake us
from our collective dream?