Let's Talk About Love, Baby!: Zygote Press brings traveling 'Love Library' to Cleveland
CLEVELAND, Ohio - Growing up in Zimbabwe, Chido Johnson watched his mother read one Harlequin romance novel after another as an exercise in improving her English. Anyone who's ever paged through the books knows the storylines can become so predictable that it's difficult to tell where one ends and the next begins. But when Johnson devised his "Love Library" in 2008, the idea was to have artists create their own unique interpretation of the iconic romance novels, then travel the exhibit around the globe with new artists adding their own books in each city.
To add to the intimacy, each city the show visits is based on personal invitation. It was artist Sarah Kabot who invited Johnson to bring his library to Zygote Press, 1410 East 30th St., on Feb. 13. Kabot, along with Zygote's co-founder and executive director Liz Maugans, will act as the "love librarians" who invite artists to make their contribution. Each of those artists will then be able to invite one more person into the circle.
"This show itself and idea of collective exchange is key to the heart of what we do here at Zygote every day," says Maugans. "Sarah and I both adore so many artists and it was important for us to invite people that have not exhibited here, spreading the love even more. The 'love' connection will continue to spread with each Love Library artist being able to invite someone they love."
It's the tour's ninth stop after visiting Rochester, St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis and Columbus, as well as Zimbabwe and Ethiopia. At each location, artists explore the Harlequin novel in mediums across the board, from textiles to ceramics.
As the show has grown in each city, there are now books by more than 200 participants. Though artists are separated by many things regionally and culturally, it all comes back to the perplexing, confusing, sometimes awkward and magical concept known as love.
"There's quite a few similarities between artists who are not connected, who are unaware of each other," says Johnson. "The way we talk about our personal narratives are so varied. But as we recognize their differences, we can see their similarities as well."
The contribution of Cleveland artist and writer Evan Fusco takes the broad idea of love presented and focuses it through a biographic lens. His book, "for she's touched your perfect body with her mind," is a combination of his own poetry and photographs as well as text from various sources and images from the internet, primarily of roses.
"I was interested in the relationship between this large, seemingly universal idea of love, and the small and personal, and what happens when those two things sit side-by-side," says Fusco.
Johnson catalogues the books on the Love Library's website with snippets of each artist talking about their work. In St. Louis, artist Katie Ford created a box holding the mementos of love letters with a mountain constructed inside.
"The thing about love is there's always some element of surprise, no matter what's professed or withheld of expected," the recording of Ford relays. "It sneaks up on you."
Ford notes that she chose love letters because they endure even after a relationship is over. It's not unlike the exhibit itself, which while fleeting, will continue on.
Selection of artists invited to contribute their own addition to the library was split between Maugans and Kabot. It includes up-and-coming artists like Amber Esner, Justin Will, Breanne Trammell and Jake Hatmaker, along with seasoned artists such as David Reid and James Klein, Kristen Cliffel, Loren Naji, Dana Depew and Rian Brown.
The show runs through Feb. 25, and will also host a fundraiser, "Let's Make ... with Love" on Feb. 9. Attendees will get to use Zygote Press' printmaking materials to "make all kinds of love," such as T-shirts, posters, coasters and Valentine's Day cards. Poet David Lucas will be leading guests in writing sonnets. Candy hearts, Sweet Designs chocolates and cocktails will be served.
On Feb. 25, Zygote will host a closing potluck event featuring artists talking about their work.
"There's no better time to start the year with love than now," Johnson says.