Seeing Libraries Differently project champions innovative art practice

A new video work by Nick Thurston has premiered as part of the Manchester UNESCO City of Literature’s Festival of Libraries.

Tender Silences was made as part of Seeing Libraries Differently — a partnership project with Chetham’s Library in Manchester, the oldest public library in Britain (founded in 1653).

Nick Thurston has been working with Chetham’s Library for a number of years to think in new ways about the collections, architecture and everyday life of the library. Together, they have explored the histories of reading and public sharing that Chetham’s is testament to, and the emotional and imaginative work done by librarians to care for the future.

This work has culminated in Nick’s video, Tender Silences, which was shot in Chetham’s during April 2021 as the team prepared to re-open the library from lockdown.

An accompanying newspaper offers different views from the Seeing Libraries Differently project and introduces the little-known history of contemporary artists responding to libraries in moving image works.

Sample newspaper spread of Seeing Libraries Differently with text and images

Sample spread from Nick Thurston and Aaron Dawkins, Seeing Libraries Differently, 2022. Broadsheet newspaper, 12pp, print and digital. Images courtesy Aaron Dawkins.

Nick Thurston, Associate Professor in the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, said:

"This project champions a unique niche in innovative art practice: artists’ moving image work that explores the emotional, social and imaginative impact of libraries.

“In April 2021, I shot footage at the oldest public library in the English-speaking world, Chetham’s in Manchester, as the first librarians re-entered after lockdown to re-awaken the place. Working with Chetham’s Library and the Manchester City of Literature team, the project grew into Seeing Libraries Differently.

“Between the eponymous newspaper and final video work, Tender Silences, we tried to reflect creatively on the quiet joy and resilience of libraries, their contents and custodians."

Still from Nick Thurston's film Tender Silences, 2022.

Still from Nick Thurston, Tender Silences, 2022. HD video, 7mins.

Tender Silences is 7 minutes long, silent and free to stream. There is a prose-poem embedded in the closed captions, which you can turn on/off. Watch the video.

You can also watch Nick Thurston and Fergus Wilde (Librarian) discuss the history of Chetham’s and the development of the project.

Print copies of the broadsheet (funded by the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies) were freely available at participating venues during the Festival of Libraries, which took place across venues in Manchester from 15 to 19 June. Digital copies are available for download.

Find out more about Seeing Libraries Differently.

Feature image

Still from Nick Thurston, Tender Silences, 2022. HD video, 7mins.