Elm City Scrapbook is a column alternately written by Daniella Sanchez (MC ’25) and Catherine Kausikan (GH ’25), which each week reflects on a different artwork in and around New Haven.
As a child, I used to imagine that there must be a secret association of librarians who studied the occult knowledge of the Dewey Decimal system, excommunicating study-snackers and making novel recommendations for all of eternity. Never in my life did I imagine that I would join their ranks. And yet, here I am, working as a Student Library Assistant at the Yale Center for British Art.
As it turned out, all I really needed to do was fill out an application and complete an interview. Once I was offered a position, my training consisted of a short video on how to shelve the books, followed by a practical component in which my supervisor showed me around the library. I was taught how to operate the scanner, count and record hundreds of books gifted to the library, and conduct bibliography research on artwork.
I enjoy being a librarian. There is something so down-to-earth about walking into a routine job, passing from one item to the next in the same way one flips through pages in a book. The mundane tasks entrance me with their rhythm and make me feel more human. All my tasks are tangible, and it’s difficult to get lost in my own head; instead I focus on running my fingers along the spines of books and placing them where they belong. My job gives me certainty, something I rarely feel. I know exactly where to shelve the books. I know how to make the scans. I know when my time starts and stops.
As I reshelve the books, I flip through them. There is serendipity in seeing what artist or artwork will speak to me each day, a sort of literary and artistic set of library tarot cards. Recently, I opened Damien Hirst’s Exhibition Catalog Cherry Blossoms.
I’ve never been the biggest fan of this contemporary artist’s work, but I was immediately captivated by the collective frenzy of dots scattered on the page, struggling in a way that still managed to maintain visual order. Between the pages were quotes and poems about cherry blossoms. The sensation of physically flipping through the book, reading the words alongside the paintings, heightened my sense of what Hirst was trying to get at—the fleeting beauty of art contrasted with the active blooming of creating, and more importantly, the search for art in life. He writes:
“The Cherry Blossoms are about beauty and life and death. They’re extreme—there’s something almost tacky about them. Like Jackson Pollock twisted by love. They’re decorative but taken from nature. They’re about desire and how we process the things around us and what we turn them into, but also about the insane visual transience of beauty—a tree in full crazy blossom against a clear sky. It’s been so good to make them, to be completely lost in color and in paint in my studio. They’re garish and messy and fragile and about me moving away from Minimalism and the idea of an imaginary mechanical painter and that’s so exciting for me.”
Now every time I’m in the Reference Library, I get lost in the reshelving, and in the art, and in the books. I step into this world of cherry blossoms in my head, and I try to find solace in life’s uncertainty.
Hirst : cherry blossoms / Damien Hirst ; editor, Pierre-Édouard Couton
BRITISH ART CENTER, Reference Library
Call number: NJ18.H5991 A12 2021 (LC) Oversize