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“Emotional Treasures, Emotional Revelations: Socially Engaged Art Project,” brings serendipity to the library

The building of “Emotional Treasures, Emotional Revelations: Socially Engaged Art Project,” by professor Nobuho Nagasawa. Unveiled on Nov. 11, the installation is a bookcase and an area where participants can find booklets with tiny confessions. LAJIERE BLAKE/THE STATESMAN

On Tuesday, Nov. 11, Stony Brook professor Nobuho Nagasawa of the Department of Art unveiled her latest art project, titled “Emotional Treasures, Emotional Revelations: Socially Engaged Art Project,” in the Central Reading Room of the Frank Melville Jr. Memorial Library. 

The installation is simply a bookcase and an area where participants can find booklets. Students, faculty and the general public are encouraged to be both browsers and confession writers for the project. They can write a confession in a tiny, specially-made booklet and insert it within one of the books from the stack or they can simply browse the stack and find a booklet that may have a confession within it. 

According to the flyer for the project, “[p]eople can return to the library and check out the small booklets of confession [and] add more comments to them so that the confession and the comments will be handed down.” The project is a process of sharing secrets and books — something that is lacking within New Age book-buying habits. 

“This is an art project that creates serendipity that is not possible with online book purchases,” the flyer further states.

Professor Nagasawa’s students were the first to participate in the process. Hana Kim, a junior political science major, was one of the students in attendance. When asked what kinds of confessions she is expecting to find, Kim says, “I think I will find more of the things of regret or the poignant feelings of, let’s say someone who passed away.” It is not lost on Kim the kind of audience that may be participating in the event, as she goes on to say the confessions are “[m]aybe even just revelations from what they learned here in college.” 

These perceptions of the project are spot-on. The confessions are the beginning of the project, but the interaction of others with those secrets is what makes it truly special. The synopsis reads, “Sharing a secret transforms from an act of personal disclosure to a collective act of forgiveness, understanding, and compassion.” 

It seems that the project is a reaction to online book purchases and the missing intimacy within that process. A New York Times article published in 2017 explains that “[a]s e-commerce becomes more deeply embedded in the fabric of daily life, including for the first time in rural areas, bookstores are undergoing a final shakeout.” Physical bookstores are becoming a smaller part of our lifestyles and Nagasawa’s art project is looking to bridge the gap between consumers both with each other and with their books. Bookstore revenue has been on the decline and stores like Barnes & Noble have shut down stores in an attempt to stay afloat. Journalist Andria Cheng wrote that before being sold to hedge fund Elliott Management, Barnes & Noble struggled financially. “And its shares, after topping $30 at their peak in 2006, had slumped to about $4,” Cheng explains.

Kim visited a coffee shop in Manhattan that had a bookcase that implored visitors to leave their book. Kim abided and was able to briefly read a book she wouldn’t have found otherwise. “My algorithms would have never guessed that it’s something I would pick up,” she said. 

The power of the project is felt by many, including the Liaison to the Art Department and Data Librarian, Claire Payne. She helped put the project together because of its importance to her. “As someone who is pretty new to this Stony Brook community, I thought it would be a really great way to get to know my department and get involved in a really exciting socially engaged project,” Payne said.

“Emotional Treasures, Emotional Revelations: Socially Engaged Art Project” is on display until Wednesday, Nov. 20. There are drop-in events on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 4 to 5 p.m., with additional time on Wednesday from 1 to 2 p.m. 

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