Commemorating the Stacks (2018) by Philadelphia-based artist Colette Fu was commissioned by the City of Philadelphia’s Percent for Art Program and the Free Library of Philadelphia as part of a major renovation at the library’s Parkway Central Branch in 2019.
This renovation, the new Heim Center for Cultural and Civic Engagement, created more than 40,000 square feet of public space with social and technological resources to meet the needs of a modern-day library. While there are few books there now, this site was formerly the library’s historic stacks, which housed hundreds of thousands of books on six-levels of shelving. The stacks served as a central hub for neighboring libraries and boasted a complex retrieval system.
“I want to commemorate the book, the library, the artist book, Philadelphia, and most of all the stacks that were permanently removed from the library.” –Colette Fu
As the title suggests, Colette Fu’s artwork is a memorial to these storied stacks. Known for her intricate works in the medium of pop-up books and paper art, the artist created a series of square tunnel books, which create the illusion of a multi-dimensional scene through a series of cut paper panels stacked one in front of the other to create a sense of depth. The tunnel books in this case are made with laser-cut frosted acrylic layers, and the imagery is based on photos that the artist captured of the stacks before they were removed for the renovation. Each tunnel book, which is set into floor-to-ceiling library shelving, is framed by pieces of the original steel stacks.
“My hope,” according to the artist’s statement, “is to first, emphasize that there is a line of continuity in the book form as it moves from more historic book forms, including moveable books (also referred to as mechanical or toy books), to modern day tablets, cellphones, and e-readers. Second, I want to give visibility to the field of book arts, and to show that a book can possess interesting qualities beyond its text specifically through printing methods, paper choice, and the binding. Lastly, I want to commemorate the book, the library, the artist book, Philadelphia, and most of all the stacks that were permanently removed from the library.”
Born in Princeton, NJ to Chinese immigrant parents, Colette Fu earned an MFA in Fine Art Photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 2003. In 2008 she received a Fulbright Research Fellowship create a photographic pop-up book of China’s ethnic minorities in Yunnan Province, China, where her family is from. Fu’s work can be found in numerous collections, including the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Library of Congress, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the West Collection.
This artwork is part of the (Re)FOCUS on Women in Public Art tour