Unlimited Potential Meanings: Warburg's Library as Laboratory

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Conference Proceeding
Audience: Proceedings of the XXVIIIth International Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand, 2011, pp. 1 - 13
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In contradistinction to the progressive globalisation of knowledge through projects such as the World Digital Library (WDL), Hans Ulrich Obrist recently suggested an 'archipelago model' - clusters of smaller libraries where users are guided through knowledge by prolific individuals. These are personal archives made available to a wider public, and that are tested and reconfigured through exhibitions, publications and other collaborative projects. Obrist cites Aby Warburg's library as an exemplary precedent. In this context, the paper examines Aby Warburg's 'Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek' (K.B.W.) as a discussion platform for contemporary approaches to libraries, such as Obrist's, which resist the sustainment of the library as a neutral storehouse as well as the elimination of the individual in the production of knowledge. The K.B.W. includes transformations of traditional modes of knowledge production and organization that offer an opportunity to broaden the interpretation of how the relationship between the audience and the library both (as a system and as a building) can be reconfigured. As the first modern library of this kind, the K.B.W. assumes paradigmatic importance. This paper focuses on two aspects of Warburg's library, each of which touches upon the topic of library/audience in a different way: first, on the transformation of Warburg's private library into a newly designed research institute and the conceptual demands his methodology posed on the audience as well as on the architecture of the new library building; and secondly, on Warburg's understanding of the 'library as laboratory' that represented a shift from knowledge storage to knowledge production, and from readers to collaborators. In these instances, Warburg challenges the idea of the library as a 'storehouse of frozen facts' whilst simultaneously reconfiguring the library as an open system of 'potential relations.'
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