Janne Robberstad

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The magical, mystical, the weird and wonderful world of books!

By spotogspindel | June 27, 2020

A good book is a treasure. It can take you deep inside yourself, or far, far away. To other other worlds, to other cultures, to other minds. It can broaden your horizon and it can broaden your mind, your imagination, your talents, in addition to your knowledge. It can make you forget yourself, forget time and space. It will have you explore and experience and identify with characters and teach you empathy for others, by vividly showing you that there is more than one or two sides to a story, more sides than you´d ever even imagined. If one book can do all this, how much cannot a library do?! A library is a treasure-chest, filled with new worlds, and new horizons, new thoughts. A good library nourishes the imagination and tickles the curiosity!

These are my initial thoughts about books and libraries. When I was asked to contribute to my local library, it made me so happy. A library is such a good place to be. I felt really lucky to contribute with my own imagination in the creation of such a magical place.

As a scenographer who have mainly worked with theatre, a relatively fleeting affair (the show usually only goes on for a couple of weeks), its been a luxury to make something much more permanent. And as an agent for environmentally sustainable art and design, as an ecoscenographer, it has been a chance to really explore the options of good, healthy eco-design. For the past years I have been studying eco-scenography, and as a Phd-student researching eco-creativity, it can at times become a bit theoretical. So this opportunity to put theory into practice was a golden opportunity to test out different approaches.

Bømlo municipality is an island community, with around 12000 people scattered over 1004 islands, and it is my home. We´ve had a library for years, of course, but recently it was decided to move the library from the top floor of a shopping-centre to become an integrated part of the culture-house. With a cinema, a big theatre/concert-stage, art-exhibitions, the culture-school and a cafe, this is the perfect place for even more art and culture! And since children are the most eager and frequent users of the library, they wanted to make the children´s department extra special.

I´ve been hunting charity-shops for old globes fro 4 years with the intent to use in a scenography once upon a time…

The entrance to the the children´s department is marked by a big chandelier, in the shape of a 2x 2 meter white cloud hanging down from the black ceiling. Underneath it hangs twenty vintage globes. What better way to symbolize that you are now entering a world of many worlds, as I mentioned above.

Continuing, you enter a forrest. The architect had already designed in the “tree-tops” in the ceiling and ordered the carpeting. It was very easy to build on this idea and complete it with birch-stems, from floor to ceiling. Inviting nature in to become an integrated part of the fortress of culture was a very conscious move. Both on a philosophical and aesthetic level. The aesthetics is easy: they look really nice! They build a bridge between the stylized forrest-decor inside and the real nature outside, where you can look out over the lake and the trees on the other shore. Part of bridging this gap, and add a touch of humor, was adding vintage lamps to the stems. Not only vintage, as in from second-hand-stores, but most of them visibly home-made, hand-carved wood-bases, probably around 70-80 years ago. Adding light into a dark forrest, will make it ever so slightly more magical in a mild, cozy kind of way.

The birch-stems, by the way, are locally grown. Cut by my uncle on his farm, only a few kilometers from the library. So locally sourced by local labor. It is actually quite rare that one gets to work with material that one knows the complete life-cycle of: no additives, no toxins, no chemicals, no processing, no pollution. 100% natural, traceable, sustainable, fair-trade. Very rare!

The forrest, on a more philosophical level, or even symbolic level, I am inspired by Posthumanism and Næss´ Deep ecology, stating that we are not only part of nature, we are nature. And bringing nature into culture in this manner is a reminder of just this, how integrated they are, we are. Norway has a nature-loving people, but modern distractions and life in the fast lane make an increasing part of the population people less interested in nature. This reminder of the tree-trunks  hopefully reminds us of our original closeness to nature.

I just remembered: (most) books are made with paper from trees… maybe books are the ultimate bridge between nature and culture?

In one of the trees I added a bird-house. You can´t have a magical forrest without birds, can you? I decorated the entire birdhouse with salvaged vintage needle-point embroidery. This has been a favourite medium for me the past years. Finding old, discarded, unloved embroideries in charity-shops for next-to-nothing-prices breaks my heart a little. As a textile-teacher I know how much time, effort and love went into making these, no matter how kitchy some of them are (according to modern taste). People built their houses, and decorated them to make them their homes with things they thought were beautiful. And a lot of these are replica patterns of classical paintings, bringing a cultural-historical aspect onto the scene.

A day-bed for lounging around in, while enjoying a book or the view. The wooden bed is from around 1910 from Heibø farm in Notodden, the needlepoint embroidery is from charity shops, all given a new life in a new environment. 

So in addition to the birdhouse, I used salvaged needlepoint embroidery for the mattress of the daybed and cushions for the built-in house-sofa (architects design). For adults, the nostalgic trip down memory-lane often occurs (“I remember we had this in the hall when I was a child!”), for a young audience they are presented to an alternative aesthetic, and alternatives are often a good thing when encouraging exploration. Also, the daybed is good to lounge around in. One of the librarians told me she fell asleep on it the day before opening day 🙂

Antique seamans-chest from charity-shop with a new coat of paint.

Hidden in the corner lies a strange opening in the wall, like a cave, you have to bend down to enter. Outside stands a ship-chest. Another charity-shop-find, at least a hundred years old, maybe older. It was already painted shabby-chic style, so I painted it bright turquoise to pop out instead.  Inside lies an invisibility-cloak. Because sometimes you want to be alone in your deep-dive into the magical world of books. You can borrow a head-light at the counter, and disappear from others´ views. And the books?  Well, why not enter the fantasy-section? Step into the cave….

And here is the “piece-de-resistance”: the curiosa cabinet!

I have since I was a child wanted one of these. Or rather, all the weird and wonderful, scary, fascinating things that you could see in these cabinets! They truly tickled my curiosity, made me want to explore! One moment as an Egyptologist, the nest an astronomer, and the next a geologist or a biologist… So many things I didn´t know about, that I wanted to know about! I wanted to learn about the planets, about the Sfinx, the gorilla, glaciers and crystals…. I wanted to learn about nature and psychology and history and all that I could imagine and all that I couldn´t imagine!

And here I had the chance to inspire others the way I had been inspired by old pictures of these cabinets. I feel that my “mission” is two-fold. As a teacher I want to inspire the curiosity towards learning.  And as a eco-designer I want to show an alternative to the “quick-fix”, ready-bought solutions and give hope to a sustainable future.

Part of the Potions-exhibit: Vintage-finds from charity-shops mixed with vintage finds from my attic, drawers and treasure-troves… All filled and labeled accordingly.

The cabinet itself contains ten shelves, inspired by different subjects at Hogwarts school of Magic from Harty Potter. (In itself a point, to have a room be inspired by one of the great children´s literature successes of recent years.) Here you can find Alchemy, Astronomy, Potions, Herbology, Beastology… I started rummaging around thrift-shops and did find some treeasures before the pandemic closed down the country. As it turns out, I am a collector. Around a third of the things in the cabinet actually comes from my own house.

Part of the Herbology-exhibit: The mandrake-baby is a natural tree-“knot” from the blood-beech in my garden, silk-remnant-leaves and an old pot. The mushroom-poster in the back is from a local school that closed.

Some of the things I have been saving as treasures from I was 8-9 years old: a green rock, a plastic monster from New Zealand airlines… little bottles that I have now filled with everything from human hair to Tibetan salt and of course the portable-day-on-the-beach. From fart-seeds and Yeti-sweat to poisonous fangs, I try to balance the facts and the fiction with humor and wonder.

Part of the History of Magic and Beastology-exhibit: Replica dinosaur-fossil, with real sheep-skulls and shedded adder-skin, and a  handmade unicorn-horn.

Sticking to the truth as far as I can, and in between serving pure imagination. Unicorn-horns are hard to get, so I admit I made one. From an old pyjamas-pants and plaster (maybe I shouldn´t tell you, I´m taking the magic out of it now, right?! But there is a reason for telling you: not everything has to be store-bought! Some of the best things are handmade & selfmade)

Part of the Divination-exhibit:An collection of crystal balls, among them an old sea-float, and a real “diamond” with a hole in it that I found when I was 10 years old, coins from a charity-shop necklace.

Playing on different talents, I photoshopped the librarians faces (and my own) into vintage wizards and witches portraits, that now fit perfectly in an old photo-album from November 1902, bought at an antique.shop in the Portland, USA-area.

Part of the Defence against the dark arts-exhibit: Rocks with corrogated copper from local copper-mines, an old wand the librarian´s kid gave me to include in the exhibit, and an old Christmas-decoration turned into a Nimbus 1500 broom. And the antique photo-album of course.

The rest of the post is more academic and explains some of my thoughts connected to “the how and why” of eco-design.

I have mentioned eco-design/ environmentally friendly design several times here now. What exactly is that? Well, the truth is that there are several answers, because it is a complex world, and sometimes the criteria contradict each other. I will still give a short list of some things that I have considered when creating this space.

I base this on Datschefski´s theory of five criteria for sustainable design: A good sustainable product has to be Cyclic – Solar – Social – Safe – Efficient

Solar – means that a product is made with renewable energy. This is often very difficult to check. However, renewable energy like solar and wind-power is becoming more common. Norway is a hydro-powered country, so everything produced here would be at least partly made with renewable energy.  The birch-trunks are certainly 100% solar-powered. They were transported 3 kilometers by car, but that is still an “overcomable” shipping-cost in terms of carbon-footprint.

Cyclic – means that a material or product is recyclable or compostable. It also favours designing a product with several life-cycles in mind. I prefer using natural materials, even if these sometimes are processed quite a bit and/or mixed with man-made materials, they will still be better than 100% man-made fabrics (which are basically made from oil/fossil fuel. All the things thrifted, bought second hand or upcycled come under this point, as they are given at least one extra life. This is the case for all the embroidery and most of the things in the cabinet, and all the globes.

Safe – Creating or using a product should not be toxic or polluting. It should be safe to produce and use. I make conscious decisions regarding types of glues and paints as far as possible, keeping them non-toxic.

Social – All the thrifted things I have bought at charity shops have another good effect: the money they make on me, they in turn do good for others. When I shop locally, I support the local community in both goods and services. For instance I had a local carpenter custom-make the curiosa-cabinet-doors for me.

Efficient – means to make sure things are of good quality, made properly, fill their purpose and are made to last.

Though Datschefski gives five solid indicators of a good sustainable practice, I think there are a couple of aspects he is missing. Perhaps because I come from a tradition of teaching, I believe that there is a value in itself of creating things yourself. Learning a skill, crafting a beautiful and functional object will bring something as old-fashioned as happiness to the creator. The process of performing high quality craftsmanship will bring joy both to the creator and the user. Being self-sufficient and capable of creating things you need and can use, will give a confident sense of mastering and meaning. A self-knitted sweater is much more valuable to me than the sweater I bought at H&M. Not because the bought sweater isn´t nice. But I have spend time and care to create my own sweater, so I will value it more. For starters, I don´t take for granted the time it takes to make a garment, and am therefore more reluctant to be reckless with it, or chuck it away after a few wearings. In any case, the joy of creating should not be underestimated.

Of course there are other ways of being sustainable too. Recycling, or even better: up-cycling materials or objects. Upcycling simply means giving discarded objects a new life. Instead of throwing them away, you give these materials or objects a new life. So just like with the birdhouse above, I used vintage, discarded embroideries to create a day-bed with the seat and pillow telling silent stories. Older people, when they see the vintage embroideries, they often reminisce back to their childhoods. Young people might laugh at the changing aesthetics, but they too reminisce, and its a kind laugh. Children use them as energy for their imagination, and can create entire fairy-tales from one picture.

Another way of being sustainable is to ensure high-quality. Both in materials and craftsmanship: quality is essential for making something that lasts. The over-production of objects and the fast-fashion state-of-mind are very much part of the enormous waste-problem on Earth. By consciously choosing quality in the things we use, things simply last longer, hence reduces waste.

Of course buying second-hand things from charity-shops is also a very good alternative. Things are given a new life instead of ending up on the landfill, and you support a good cause financially. One man´s trash is another man´s treasure. Like all the weird and wonderful treasures in the cabinet.

And finally, using short-traveled materials or services can mean saving quite a bit of the carbon-footprint of the material/object. The best example here is the 15 birch-trunks.

I hope you´ve enjoyed the virtual tour of Bømlo Folkebibliotek (Bømlo Library). If you are near by, please come visit and see it live!

Topics: Art, arting, embroidery redesign, inspiration, interior, library, redesign, set design, sustainable | 1 Comment »

One Response to “The magical, mystical, the weird and wonderful world of books!”

  1. gail Says:
    June 27th, 2020 at 15:34

    Absolutely magical, what a wonderful place to explore and let imagination take flight! I would have loved it as a child and might love it even more now as an old lady, because lie has taught the value of finding magic in our regular lives. Another wonderful creation, you are amazing!

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