Harry Potter & The Fires of Ignorance
September 05, 2008
Books have always occupied a special place in my world, both as repositories of idea and aesthetic objects. Thus, it was a great honor to be invited to participate in the 2008 exhibit “Banned and Recovered: Artists Respond to Censorship.” The exhibit was first mounted simultaneously at The San Francisco Center for the Book and the African American Museum and Library at Oakland.
Harry Potter & The Fires of Ignorance, a small installation piece conceived for the exhibit, was inspired by the fourth Harry Potter book—Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire. Given its 2001 release date, copies of the Goblet of Fire were most likely those burned in March 2001, the first such protest. In this case, a small evangelical group in Pittsburgh took offense at the book’s portrayal of witchcraft, though they admitted to not having read it. The Pittsburgh burning turned out to be the first of many such incidents around the United States.
This piece plays with the various meanings of “recover”—i.e. to cover again, to regain possession, even to remove or extract (as, say, from a fire).
At the core of this installation is a de-accessioned library copy of The Goblet of Fire. I covered the original book with a new dust jacket, created from wooden matches and deconstructed matchboxes. Harry Potter—part of the illustration from the original dustjacket—peers out from his wooden bunker, under siege as it were, from the forces that would destroy him. I provided a new spine of wood for the “recovered” book, which enumerates various burning/mutilation incidents around the country. The cross formed by strike pad material and spine symbolizes the paradoxical nature of religion, a world in which creation and destruction co-exist. Inside the book, I added special pages on which were printed various quotes and excerpts about censorship.
The “recovered” book rises from the ashes of burned books, also copies of The Goblet of Fire.
The work embodies the incendiary aspect of the censorship battle, the fragility of the cultural legacy that books represent, and my own optimism that printed books will persevere in the face of censorship, as well as increased digitalization.
Under the auspices of the California Exhibition Resources Alliance, The Fires of Ignorance will travel through 2013 with other works from Banned & Recovered exhibit.