Strahova Monastery, Prague

The Strahova Monastery in Prague holds a celebrated library. Two rooms filled to the ceiling with books on philosophy and theology. The ceilings are painted, heavily influenced by the Roman tradition, and not well done.

Because I had not booked prior to going, and had no time to gain permission which takes three days to a week, I was not allowed to walk around the library proper but had to look at the rooms from the corded doors. And here I was given the first real visual experience of a library as a pure expression of shapes.

For as long as I have known libraries exist, they have been places to go and only find a book, smell books en masse and enjoy the learning in them which, hypocrite that I am, I can wax lyrical about, knowing I will never know a tenth of it. But here, for all the world I could have been looking at a painting for its brush work rather than at objects. Enjoying perspective an an odd flatness created by staring for a long time.

The shelves were all regimented and in the lines one would expect, except one towards the floor that slightly bent with the weight of the books along it. One small curved line in a forest of straight horizontal ones. The books were vertical strokes of a brush finely worked over with the titles by a careful eye. Above the books, the space between the top of each line of books and the shelf above, were black lines. I thought of geometric, abstract art but they were not uniform.  A library is a Modernist masterpiece.

Book spines of dozens of colours, differing thickness, running deep into the room more like beautiful drapes hanging down and along a wall, than books. Decoration. Here, in a place were books were filled with ideas that are supposed to challenge ones assumptions about almost everything, I was challenged to understand a library in a whole new way. The visual landscape that I was enjoying had nothing to do with knowledge, nothing to do with traditional reading although I was reading, and with my eyes. A library is its own kind of visual expression of a truth – everything we create has its own aesthetic but the aesthetics of everything we create are connected to all our senses. And reason, the place where we deal with the information from our senses, marries them all together with an interpretation that starts off as reality but becomes as we become adults, interpretation. I was no longer assuming this was a library, I was altering my perspective. A library is an artwork of its own.

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January 2019
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