Laurie A Pearsall
A fond farewell to the Brooklyn Sketchbook Project
Updated: Feb 28
The BSP is closing its doors after nearly 20 years of this wonderful endeavor, which was originally housed in the non-profit Brooklyn Art Library. Nearly a year ago a truck filled with a treasure-trove of artists' books was headed south from New York to its new home in Florida when the vehicle caught fire in a crash en route. No people were hurt but the archive packed into stacked boxes inside the truck was badly damaged. The team let us participants know right away what had happened and begged our patience as they assessed the damage.
Although the shadow Covid-19 had cast upon us was beginning to disperse (at least in my corner of the globe), I imagined this news fell under the radar for many people. Certainly there were other urgent matters to navigate. I had plenty on my plate too, yet when I saw the posts on the project's Instagram account showing the engulfed truck bed and a forensic display of the aftermath, I felt genuine empathy for these kindly curators. After all, the small team had taken responsibility to catalogue, hold, and celebrate these works of art for creatives all around the world. Underneath a photo of some drenched scraps laid out on the pavement, we learned that the truck fire had claimed 30% of the collection; around 7,000 books were gone for good. I knew immediately that my contribution, called Impact Statement, was one of the lost souls. While I felt grief for the caretakers of the cache of sketchbooks, I did not pine for my own, not for a second.
Let's back the truck up a bit and put this into my own autoephemeral context. In late 2018 my dearest friend gave me the gift of an entry into the Brooklyn Sketchbook Project as a Christmas present. Her purchase contributed to the maintenance of the Brooklyn Art Library collection and got me waiting like a kid for my little blank book to arrive in the mail. Given that collecting and archiving experience are both the impetus and the subject-matter of what I concoct as a creative practitioner, how could I not just purrrr at this concept? I loved the troubadour aspect of the travelling shows they created, trekking chunks of the collection around the US and Europe in a vintage book-mobile! They also built mini-book shelves into old suitcases to house the collections on tour - so cool.
I was inspired by the potential for serendipitous interactions between strangers and my book - and the thought of my contribution called Impact Statement nestled in as a new sibling to an ever-growing number of sisters and brothers in the 50,000+ sketchbook archive.
My sketchbook mapped out the planning of a sculptural installation I inaugurated around the same time in 2019 that was dedicated to an omnipresent theme - sexual trauma. The Impact Statement project is an expression of the fall-out of a rape, the censure of incriminating or shameful details, and the ephemeral nature of traumatic memory.
The sculptures and the display was composed nearly all of paper and other office supplies.
Although I had been given a few months to create and ship the sketchbook from Mallorca to Brooklyn, my daily life was hijacked in early 2019 - first, by the staccato mental malfunction I was dealing with while recovering from carbon monoxide poisoning, then - by the death of my father. I was maniacally determined not to miss the deadline for the entry. I guess I needed to transmute some of my confusion and grief into something useful - hurling out this little book that was about another kind of grief felt like an act of hope, a wish that my story would find its fellows.
I made the book in ONE day - exactly the day after I returned to Spain from my father's funeral in Massachusetts. In a smear of barely cognizant grief and jet-lag, I woke and went into the studio to assemble my response to the theme prompt: Things I've left behind. I spent about six or eight hours creating it and sent it on the day of the final deadline. Fortunately, before sending it off, I was lucid enough to take photos of each double-page spread and a quick film of me flipping through the pages.
I never got a chance to see the collection in person in Brooklyn, but I did have some kindly exchanges via email from members of the very small team that kept the wheels turning. A special thanks to Rami, who helped to confirm that Impact Statement was indeed lost to the flames.
Like I said, I just knew my book had been cremated, the auspicious sacrifice of Call nº 366.25-8 was fitting. The impact of sexual violence in my own experience and in the lives of my immediate family is sadly still alive and kicking. On a near weekly basis I have to confront tangible impacts like restraining orders, or news of lost evidence, or nightmares that would give The Silence of the Lambs a run for its money. On the days in between there is plenty of kindling on hand in the news cycle far and wide.
In my aesthetic and cathartic processing of the topic, the Impact Statement installation has grown from a bathrobe to include a judge's wig and the fantasies of her next iteration in some upcoming exhibition are already rising from the smoke and ash.
This January 2023 we were notified that founder Steven Peterman has decided to fully shut the project down. In keeping with the wholehearted ethos behind The Sketchbook Project, plans are in the works to gift the collection to a series of other institutions. Anyone who wants to get their book back can do so and the digital catalogue will be made accessible again soon. Peterman signed off his farewell email with this, "It has been an honor and privilege to help manage this project. It was my entire life for over 17 years and I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish as a global creative community."
If you want to see my book online, I will begin posting documented parts of it on my Instagram page and my website as well. www.autoephemera.com
When the digital library is up and functioning again, you can check it out by entering my name, the call number 366.25-8, or the title Impact Statement.