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Cáit Murphy

Student Forum Tour: Reading Room Forty-two by Leslie Hewitt

In this tour, Cáit Murph would like to pose questions about screens, technology, memory, and meaning in relation to Leslie Hewitt’s Reading Room: Forty-Two (2019). Reading Room: Forty-Two is a 42-minute long text-based html programmed moving-image work, which appears as a continuous scroll of words that Hewitt collected while researching the National Memorial African Bookstore. The title references the 42 years that Lewis Michaux operated the bookstore, from 1932 to 1974, in Harlem, New York. The words come from books visible in archival photos of the shop, as well as Hewitt’s own thoughts while conducting this research. The words appear on the screen as objects open to semiosis, but also as geometric blocks, perhaps like architecture. This ephemera occurs in a sparse space that is constructed and deconstructed — a washed-out landscape. Viewers are invited to interact and make up their own minds. How does this piece present the “virtual” and “tangible”? Hewitt converges print media with digital media in this piece, challenging notions about the “archive” and how we store and reproduce data. The feeling of duration, or durée in the words of Henri Bergson and Gilles Deleuze, is perhaps apparent here. We not only experience the present moment without much notice, but also feel the weight of time passing, creating and revisiting memories. It may remind us of our own ubiquitous device screens. Is our memory becoming worse because of screen time? Has Hewitt challenged notions about technology and minimalism as austere, cold, and lacking in human touch? Has she instead created a warm piece, filled with nostalgia, respect, and melancholy?

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