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Vatican Library’s new exhibition blends sculpture, photography, and sound

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Courtesy of the Biblioteca Vaticana Apostolica

Daniel Esparza - published on 03/09/24

The exhibit explores the interplay between the library’s vast collection and the aesthetic vision of French artist Alain Fleischer.

The Vatican Apostolic Library launched its fifth exhibition dedicated to contemporary art on March 1. Titled Souvenirs de Babel (“Memories of Babel”), the exhibit explores the interplay between the library’s vast collection and the aesthetic vision of French artist Alain Fleischer.

Visitors are greeted by a symbolic image: a large reproduction of Athanasius Kircher’s 1679 depiction of the Tower of Babel. This biblical reference, referencing humanity’s struggle to communicate, sets the stage for Fleischer’s exploration.

The exhibition unfolds in a curated journey. A photographic mosaic on the grand staircase delves into the library’s history, drawing from various archival collections. This visual composition leads visitors to a showcase of Fleischer’s established works, alongside new pieces created specifically for the exhibition. These artistic creations are presented in dialogue with historical photographs and casts of ancient Arabic and Chinese steles.

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Librarian Monsignor Angelo Vincenzo Zani emphasizes the exhibition’s role in fostering self-reflection within the Vatican Library. He sees these contemporary art dialogues as “real scientific research” that stimulates new perspectives and connections.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is an immersive experience within the famed Barberini Hall. Here, Fleischer utilizes an innovative soundscape to evoke the voices of the countless books that have resided there for centuries.

This site-specific installation poignantly highlights the dual nature of the Barberini Hall as both a library and a theatrical space.

The exhibition is not simply an artistic showcase; it also emphasizes the importance of photographic documentation. Library curators, in collaboration with the Photographic Archives, highlight how photography serves as a vital tool for preserving not only the physical spaces but also the stories of the people who created and inhabited them.

Librarian Monsignor Angelo Vincenzo Zani emphasizes the exhibition’s role in fostering self-reflection within the Vatican Library. He sees these contemporary art dialogues as “real scientific research” that stimulates new perspectives and connections.

“Souvenirs de Babel” is open to the public, with reservations, until June 22, 2024. Reservations can be made on the Vatican Library website.

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