The Ambivalents by Sally O’Reilly

Softcover, 52 pages, 5 (w) × 7.5 (h) inches
Color and black-and-white illustrations
Cabinet Books, 2017
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Sally O’Reilly’s The Ambivalents and its companion—Jeff Dolven’s Take Care—are the result of an unusual experiment. The sixth and fifth volumes of Cabinet’s “24-Hour Book” series, respectively, they were written in the exact same twenty-four-hour period, with O’Reilly working in a room at the Inner Temple in London and Dolven installed at Cabinet’s gallery space in New York. Both writers were asked to respond to a prompt, which was revealed to them one day in advance. The prompt took the form of a found document—the 1986 catalogue for Braintree Scientific, an American company that manufactures lab products used in experiments on rats and mice. (A pdf of the catalogue is available here. Readers may wish to consult it before reading this book.)

O’Reilly’s response to the prompt was to compose dozens of letters to the company in the guise of a wide range of characters, including an artist, a literary critic, a dissatisfied customer, several schoolchildren, and a man who, like the animals on display in the catalogue, is perhaps close to death.

Advance praise for the book
“Sally O’Reilly’s degree of access to the Braintree Scientific archives—if in fact that is her source—is unprecedented; I don’t know how she did it. The letters she has brought us, wherever she found them, are extraordinary—by turns factually revelatory, piercingly insightful, puzzlingly off-topic, and simply heartbreaking. The editorial achievement is nothing less than genius. And all in the space of twenty-four hours! Surely among the year’s most significant work on the 1986 catalogue, or indeed, any other catalogue.”
—Jeff Dolven, author of Take Care

About Cabinet’s “24-Hour Book” series
Inspired by literary precedents such as automatic writing, by the resourcefulness of the bricoleur making do with what is at hand, and by the openness toward chance that all artistic production under severe constraint must necessarily incorporate, this series invites distinguished authors and artists to be incarcerated in an unfamiliar space to complete a project from start to finish within twenty-four hours.

About Sally O’Reilly
Sally O’Reilly writes for performance, page, and video, interleaving academic research and technical knowledges with the comic, the fantastical, and the psycho-social. Besides contributing to several art magazines and numerous exhibition catalogues, she has written the novel Crude (Eros Press, 2016), the libretto for the opera The Virtues of Things (Royal Opera, Aldeburgh Music, and Opera North, 2015), a monograph on Mark Wallinger (Tate Publishing, 2015), and The Body in Contemporary Art (Thames & Hudson, 2009). She was writer-in-residence at the Whitechapel Art Gallery (2010–2011) and at Modern Art Oxford (2016); producer and cowriter of The Last of the Red Wine, a radio sitcom set in the art world (ICA, London, 2011); and coeditor of Implicasphere (2003–2008), an interdisciplinary broadsheet.

Cabinet wishes to thank the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts for their support of this project.