BOOKBURN/Library of Books Burned at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, NY
September 12, 2018 - January 6, 2019
George Peck and Hugo Perez met in Budapest in 2005 when Peck had his exhibition of Projected Paintings at the Ernst Museum and Perez was producing a documentary about the Hungarian poet Miklos Radnoti who died during the Holocaust. Over the years, Perez has collaborated with Peck on numerous video installations. When Peck and Perez first became aware of the book burnings in Hungary in November 2013, and the fact that the work of the poet Radnoti was being burned along with that of other Jewish Hungarian writers, they were deeply disturbed. Peck witnessed a book burning in Budapest in 1956, in a bookstore on the ground floor of the building he lived in at the time. This was a traumatic experience that is just as visceral for him today as it was in 1956. Peck comes from a fine art background, Perez works primarily in the medium of documentary film, and together they developed the concept for BOOKBURN over a long series of conversations about the best way to respond to the book burnings in Hungary, as well as those elsewhere in the world. Peck’s trajectory from painting to video art is based on the idea of deconstructing and reconstructing the traditional two-dimensional, rectangular screen. The combination of Peck’s visual approach and Perez’s documentary experience has resulted in a unique collaboration that frames narrative storytelling around social issues into an immersive visual experience. They are both inspired by the concept expressed by Hungarian filmmaker Robert Vas that artists and spectators alike must have “the courage of looking into the face of history.” In response to the rising tide of book burnings around the world, BOOKBURN / LIBRARY OF BOOKS BURNED places the spectator at the center of a narrative constructed around the cherishing of books, the burning of books, and the preservation of the ashes of burned books.
Four streams of video simultaneously projected on a series of scrims and walls create an immersive environment through which the spectator walks and becomes a participant. At the center of our installation will be a sculptural “pyre” on which the flames of the burning books will be projected. A fifth video stream will be projected from a podium stand off to the side of the installation serving as a “footnote” to the installation and providing a historical context by examining instances of book burning over the last two millennia. An original score of modern minimalist music will accompany the visual narrative.
Our narrative begins with images of libraries, builds up to a book burning, and concludes with an anonymous figure carefully scoopingand preserving the ash remains of the books that we have termed shards. The act of preservation is one of hope that one day the words can be extracted from the ashes of the burned books. The shards are jarred, labeled, and shelved into a LIBRARY OF BOOKS BURNED for the installation. (Wherever possible, we will install shelving units on which a LIBRARY OF BOOKS BURNED, the preserved ashes of the burned books, will be displayed adjacent to the BOOKBURN video installation. In other locations, we will create a series of panels on which images of the LIBRARY OF BOOKS BURNED will have been printed. The panels together with the scrims and a canopy suspended above the installation will create the impression of a pavilion within the larger host space.)
BOOKBURN / LIBRARY OF BOOKS BURNED is meant to reflect on the idea that book burning is a form of cultural self-immolation in which those who destroy books are destroying themselves, and those that stand by are complicit in the act of cultural suicide. It has been said that wherever books are burned so too are people killed, but equally true is that where people are killed books will soon be burned. Ethnic cleansing, cultural purity, nationalist hubris go hand in hand with the act of burning books and wiping out culture deemed impure, unclean, sacrilegious. Our hope is that through placing the spectator at the center of our narrative, we can raise awareness of not just the phenomenon of book burning, but to cause them to consider the passivity and inaction that so often enables these acts of cultural genocide. Our intention is to tour the BOOKBURN / LIBRARY installation, and that it will continue to evolve and adapt to the circumstances of each location and country that hosts it. In order to complement and expand upon the installation, we intend to program readings by writers and poets at the locations/institutions hosting the installation. We believe that celebrating the work of writers and the value of words read aloud to an audience can serve as a response to the act of book burning, and provide a forum to build community around the installation. In addition, we are currently developing an interactive new media component to the installation that will allow individuals who are unable to visit the BOOKBURN / LIBRARY sites in person to engage with the piece. One interesting note on the production aspect of our installation: we have burned real books to film the burning of books, and this act of burning has created its own emotional moment within our creative process. The books that were burned for purposes of filming are library discards that otherwise would be pulped or disposed of in a landfill. The act of burning the books was visceral and unsettling for all those who participated. Confronting the flames of burning books and sifting through their ashes provides a tactile connection to the act that informs the way in which our narrative and our installation are constructed.
When I examine my own revulsion to book burning, I find it does have a moral component. It is the same horror I feel when people are ignorant of history; it seems a betrayal of the fragile collective enterprise of civilization. Knowledge of history is won with great difficulty, and by moralvirtues as well as purely intellectual ones. To throw any of them away dishonors our ancestors and would cheat our descendants. The act of collecting ashes of books and creating a LIBRARY OF BOOKS BURNED is an act of hope and optimism. This concept not only stands for memory, butalso has a dazzling and magnetic visual power beyond the literal and the emotional.
Books civilized me when I was a bright, feral child - the kind of child that would probably be medicated today. Books were my medicine; words and stories nurtured me and introduced me to a larger world that in which I lived. Books continue to be a larger part of my life, the crutch I lean on when I am seeking something more than who I am and where I am. For me, the act of burning books is an act of suicide, a wiping away of who we are, a return to the brutish time before we learned to leave our mark in the world. BOOKBURN and LIBRARY OF BOOKS BURNED are works that in a way seem to have been created by some figure in the future who looked back at our time and asked the question: how could they have allowed it to happen?
Born in Budapest, Hungary, George Peck has been living in the United States since
1957. He studied at City College in New York and at Yale University from 1964 to 1966,
with Josef Albers, also with Tony Smith at Hunter College, CCNY. He has participated
in numerous exhibitions throughout the course of his career. His work has been
exhibited in solo and group exhibitions at institutions throughout the United States
and Europe, such as: The High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA; The Birmingham Civil
Rights Institute, Birmingham, AL; Rosa Parks Museum at Troy University, Troy, AL; La
Maison Francaise of New York University; Columbia University, NY; Hungarian Cultural
Center, The Consulate General of the Republic of Hungary, NY; Florence Lynch Gallery,
Kate Ganz Gallery, Susan Caldwell, Inc., Leo Castelli Gallery, Bette Stoler Gallery,
all NY; Trans Hudson Gallery, NJ and NY; Snug Harbor, Staten Island, NY; Karl Ernst
Osthaus-Museums Hagen; America Haus, Frankfurt; American Embassy, Bonn;
Humboldt University, Berlin, all Germany; Baraz Gallery, Istanbul, Turkey; Hungarian
Academy of Fine Arts; Kunsthalle (Mucsarnok); Museum of Fine Arts; Kiscelli Museum;
Varfok Gallery; Erika Deak Gallery; Ernst Museum, all Budapest, Hungary; and many
His work has been reviewed extensively in such publications as: The New York Times,
Art in America, ArtNews, Art on Paper, and Artforum, among others. His paintings are
represented in numerous private and public collections in both the United States and
Europe, such as: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, and Grey Art
Gallery, NYU, NY; High Museum of Art, GA; Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden;
Karl Ernst Osthaus-Museums, Hagen, Germany; Museum of Applied Arts, Kiscelli
Museum, and Ernst Museum, Budapest, Hungary. George Peck lives and maintains
studios in both New York City and Buskirk, NY.
Hugo Perez is a director, producer, and writer whose work often focuses on his Cuban
heritage. He is the recipient of the 2009 Estela Award for Documentary Filmmaking
presented by NALIP – the National Association of Latino Independent Producers.
Perez is Producer and Director of NEITHER MEMORY NOR MAGIC, a feature
documentary that explores the life, work, and legacy of the Hungarian poet Miklos
Radnoti, who died in 1944 during the Holocaust. The film is narrated by the Academy
Award-nominated Patricia Clarkson and celebrated actor Viggo Mortensen. NEITHER
MEMORY NOR MAGIC is the recipient of a 2010 NEH Chairman’s Grant. Perez is also
the Producer and Director of SUMMER SUN WINTER MOON, that had its national
PBS broadcast in November 2009. Perez recently served as Executive Producer of
Rodrigo Reyes’ feature documentary, PURGATORIO – a poetic and philosophical
journey along the U.S. border with Mexico, that was the recipient of a post-production
grant from IMCINE, the Mexican Ministry of Film.
Perez was the recipient of the prestigious Rockefeller Foundation/Tribeca
Film Institute Emerging Artist Fellowship in support of his feature screenplay,
IMMACULATE CONCEPTION. Perez’s short film, BETTY LA FLACA was the winner
of the HBO/NYILFF Short Film Award and was broadcast on the HBO networks.
Currently, Perez is in development on his feature film directorial debut, GABACHO,
with actor and co-writer Adrian Martinez. Perez has studied storytelling with Gabriel
Garcia Marquez, collaborated with Pulitzer prize-winning novelist William Kennedy,
and served as a guest artist for acclaimed theater director and artist Robert Wilson.
Perez’s film, SEED, was part of the ITVS/PBS groundbreaking original online science
fiction series, FutureStates. Perez has been selected as a Cultural Envoy for the U.S.
State Department’s 2014 American Film Showcase program.
BOOKBURN, Left Projection
BOOKBURN / The Library of Books Burned- trailer, 2015
Library of Books Burned. 2015
To see detailed watercolor storyboards see the BOOKBURN / Library of Books Burned Storyboards page.