This past Tuesday, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (a Knight Arts grantee) hosted a talk by its current artist-in-residence, Chido Johnson, a 2009 Kresge Fellow who heads the sculpture department at the College for Creative Studies. Johnson spoke about his collaborative art project, “Let’s Talk about Love, Baby,” which is manifest in a “love library.” The library — an actual library of artist books — is an exceptionally rare work of art, as it requires hands-on audience participation. In fact, the only way to properly view the books is to take them off the shelf and open them, a tactile imperative that provides a real thrill in a museum setting, where touching artwork is typically frowned upon.
The love library has been slowly growing since 2008 and has been hosted all over the world — beginning in Rochester, Mich., but since then appearing in New York, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and elsewhere. At Tuesday’s talk, many of the participating artists were on hand to provide insight about the ideas behind their books, and Johnson also conversed with several participating artists throughout the world via Skype.
Johnson told Tuesday night’s audience that the project stemmed from his frustration as a teacher and artist with the limited discourse on “the three things that keep us alive: sex, love and religion.” In response to this frustration, he began inviting artists to reinterpret the romance novel and use that medium to express their thoughts on love. Each book is unique and imaginative and, in truth, beyond description, requiring close viewing and page-flipping to really comprehend. Many of the books are cut-up and illustrated romance novels and many others are entirely original creations. One book is comprised of two perfectly matched stones set between the covers of “Gone with the Wind,” and another is a box of sprouts, requiring the artist to show up everyday to water them. But those are just two examples, and there are as many unique interpretations as there are books in the library.
Adjacent to that project, Johnson has also created a giant head that is literally filled with laughter. Using a special device able to capture expelled air and direct it into a casting mold, the head was inflated throughout the course of a “laughter yoga” session last week. But it wasn’t inflated all the way — there’s not yet enough air pressure to fill it up, so Johnson’s hoping it will get entirely filled this Sunday, when he leads Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit’s Family Day activities at an event called “I Love You and ha ha ha ha ha!” Sue Ansari, an RN and one of the first students of Dr. Kataria — the founder of laughter yoga — will be leading drop-in laughter yoga workshops throughout the day. There will also be a “Laugh Detroit” smiley face T-shirt workshop. The event runs from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. this Sunday, and the love library will be on display through February.
All photos by Sarah Sharp.