This past weekend, one of the most unique libraries to exist in the Greater Los Angeles closed. Or, rather it floated back to shore, taking with it a unique collection of artist books, zines, and unusual items that could only exist in a library that sits atop a lake. The Floating Library, an art project created by Sarah Peters, floated in the middle of Echo Park Lake from February 11 through February 14. The project brings to mind the saying “swimming in knowledge,” however peddling (or drifting) in knowledge may be more appropriate.
In tandem with this year’s L.A. Art Book Fair, arts organization Machine Project worked with Minneapolis native Sarah Peters to bring the Floating Library to L.A. Visitors of the library rented pedal boats from the Echo Park Lake boathouse to peruse the Floating Library’s book collection, chat with Peters and the library’s volunteers, and to float and read.
For Sarah Peters, the Floating Library represented more than a library in the traditional sense. “[It’s] really about curiosity, inspiration and encountering the unexpected,” she said. Before the floating library came into fruition, there was Seaclamp Scoops—a floating ice cream store. Sarah Peters, who lives in Minnesota for most of the year, had the idea for a “floating business,” several years ago. Peters saw potential for creating not only a business but a way to transform the “underused amenity of the urban lake into a civic and creative space.”
Other than Alaska, Minnesota is the wettest state in the nation, boasting over 11,000 lakes, more than its famous descriptor “Land of 10,000 Lakes” implies. Though many locals and tourists visit the lakes, no one had taken the opportunity to think abstractly about how they could serve the public (and, in turn, be served back). That’s not until Sarah Peters came onto the scene anyhow. Peters imagined bringing people together on the lake through floating businesses and art projects. “[With Seaclamp Scoops], a social space was created around this floating ice cream store,” Peters explained, also describing scenarios involving melting ice cream and interactions between people on the lake. “People began getting into conversation about regulation, but also creativity and innovation,” she recalled.
After the close of Seaclamp Scoops (Peters did not have the proper permitting to continue, which is where the regulation conversation stemmed from), Sarah Peters realized she wanted to do something with books. In 2013, a prototype of the Floating Library went to float on Cedar Lake in Minneapolis. Peters acquired the Floating Library’s book collection through posting ads in local publications, only to receive “an enormous response.”
In 2014, Peters won the Artist Initiative Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, which launched the return of the Floating Library for three consecutive weekends. In 2015 Peters collaborated with well-known publishing house Coffee House Press, to stage moonlight poetry readings.
“[The Floating Library] gives people the chance to encounter the form of the book and shows that they can also make them,” Peters explained. “These are not books you’d find in a regular library–most of the collection contains ‘Artists’ Books.'”
Books featured at Echo Park Lake’s installation of the floating library contained everything from an accordion style text message thread; a magazine featuring a full broken down catalog of the curator’s book and CD collection, and many other unique finds. In total, there were approximately 80 Artist books from bookmakers and artists throughout the nation.
“People [get to] have an experience of unexpected inspiration.”
Echo Park Lake may not have gotten to see Peters’s Floating Library for more than a few days, but it certainly left an impact. Hopefully other artists found inspiration in Peters’s unique take on the transformation of natural landscapes for civil engagement and will follow suit. And, hopefully, the Floating Library will float back to Los Angeles next year with even more books for perusal.