Fall 2009

Cabinetlandia: Update No. 4

Rebuilding the Cabinet National Library


The construction of the Cabinet National Library in 2004 was the formative project for Rebar, our San Francisco-based art and design studio. Then, as now, we were self-styled idealistic conceptualists—foolhardy speculators, installation tricksters, land art humorists, remixers and remakers of the everyday landscape. Our ongoing exploration of fragmented landscapes, ambiguously defined sites, liminal territories, niche spaces, loopholes in the code, and eddies in the flow of regulation—an exploration that forms Rebar’s principal conceptual program—began in the desolation of Cabinetlandia, a few miles outside Deming, New Mexico.

Yet—as is the case with many outlandish dreams made manifest—the years had not been altogether charitable to the Cabinet National Library. As periodically reported in the pages of this magazine, the desert itself intervened in our intervention. After five years of steady environmental critique from the wind and weather—not to mention visits from creatures hailing from several phyla, the occasional vandal, an intermittent thief, and a valiant (but failed) attempt at a coup d’état—the Library had been reduced to ruins. The bottom drawer of the cabinet (originally the snack bar) was partially caked in mud and stuck shut. The Library’s collection had dwindled to a single copy of Cabinet no. 22 (“Insecurity”), which had hardened into a sturdy adobe brick. That issue—with its cover image of soap opera actor Larry Hagman flashing a spectacular smile now slowly fading into nothingness—seemed an apt metaphor for the entire history of the Library project.

So it was that we decided to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the opening of the Library—to the day—by returning with a grand plan not only to resecure and renovate the Library, but to carry out a new capital improvement project: the Library Exhibition Annex (“LEA”), a 220-square-inch gallery that boasts more than 380 square inches of white-wall space and will be available for exhibitions, performances, lectures, and other cultural projects. During our four-day adventure (excluding the sixteen-hour drive each way from San Francisco to Cabinetlandia), we encountered many of the same forces that had decimated the Library. Savagely indifferent thunderstorms left us stranded in the mud on three separate occasions. Once, we were forced to abandon the van and all our equipment overnight and literally run for our lives. During the days working at Cabinetlandia, we slogged through rain, heat, mud, dust, more mud, and then lightning storms, though we were also treated to the occasional rainbow.

In the end, the adventure was successful. We rebuilt the Library and restocked it with the entire corpus of Cabinet. We elevated the Library structure two feet above the desert floor, rebuilt the structural wall with an additional two hundred pounds of mud and cement, added a swale to improve drainage, and cleaned and weatherproofed the cabinet. When we had finished, we celebrated by attending the Cabinetlandia Senior Prom (theme: “Into the Bush”). Everyone had a grand time, though the prom was interrupted by a pitched war for territory between two colonies of fire ants. It turns out that the bite of a fire ant is extremely painful—especially on prom night. And, as we were packing up and preparing to leave Cabinetlandia, we encountered in the desert the very thoughts of the Library itself, spectral images encoded in dust and wind. Loosed from its earthly bounds, it was as though the Library was contemplating its own future potentialities, expressing its internalized delusions of grandeur. We arrived back in civilization with a nagging question: will the dreams of the Library ever be realized, or will the structure succumb to the seemingly inexorable forces of ruin? Is the Cabinet National Library destined to become a durable monument to the fantasies of everyday office furniture, or a mound of defeated dust? Time alone will tell.

The Cabinet National Library 2009 team comprised Matthew Passmore, John Bela, Teresa Aguilera, Masha Slavnova, and Jed Olson. We are also endebted to Cordelia Rose and her crew for a mission-critical tow out of the mud.

For more on the history of Cabinetlandia, see www.cabinetmagazine.org/information/cabinetlandia.php.

Rebar is a San Francisco-based studio operating at the intersection of art, design, and activism. In addition to the Cabinet National Library, Rebar is known as the inventor of PARK(ing) Day, an annual, one-day global event where artists, activists, and citizens convert metered parking spaces into temporary public parks. Rebar has lectured and exhibited at venues worldwide, including the 2008 Venice Architecture Biennale and ISEA 2009 in Dublin. For more information, see www.rebargroup.org.[Link defunct. —Eds.]

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