Leonardo On-Line: WOW: Acid Migration of Culture

Leonardo On-Line: Words on Works

Acid Migration of Culture

 Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese




Acid Migration of Culture (1994) (Fig. 3) was a window installation at the Donnell Media Center the Donnell Library Center in New York City. Using books, words and video images, Acid Migration of Culture provided a critical public forum that presented issues of confrontational cultural debate.

The 45-ft photo/video mural transformed the Donnell Library Center entrance (located across the street from the Museum of Modern Art), into a huge, open reference book. The entrance became a dictionary defining selective terms that dealt with contemporary cultural issues about art, criticism and representation.

Acid Migration of Culture, the title of the window installation, is a pun on the problems of library collections and, in a larger sense, on our society's own cultural reference and identity. In a library collection, acid migration is an irreversible condition leading to the complete destruction and deterioration of a book.

The dictionary mural in the Donnell Library windows showed the scars of time. There were worm holes, foxing and acid migration. Set within the holes of the dictionary page were four video monitors showing statements of artists, politicians and religious leaders on important issues about the arts and freedom of expression. Their statements, written with a character generator, appeared over photographic portraits or images that represented them. Contrasting points-of-view alternated on both channels of the videos.

The video was broken down into two parts. Part 1 was an overview of the recent controversy surrounding the arts in our society. Part 2 was a series of responses to questions that we asked people in the arts.

We sent letters to 60 people and posted notices on the computer bulletin boards Arts Wire and ECHO. Respondents were asked to answer the following questions:

1. How would you define culture today?
2. What is the role of art and artists in today's society?
3. Should artists consider the public and the public's reaction, when they create their artwork?

When we approached the Donnell Library Center with our proposal for Acid Migration of Culture, we felt that it was a natural extension of our recent work [1] and a perfect site for the issues on which we wished to focus, especially because of its location across from the Museum of Modern Art. We wanted to present, as clearly as possible, the polemics surrounding art, public funding, the role of the artist, and freedom of speech to the art-going public. These issues are closely related to the role of the library, its significance as a place where ideas and information are freely exchanged, preserved and conserved for posterity.


1. For the past 3 years, we have created installations that use the conventions and language of television to establish the boundaries of an emerging lexicon. These pieces make use of video in relation to print media, newspapers and books. They focus on how we read the media and show that video and television, as vehicles for words and images, are texts to be read and deciphered. We have also expanded these ideas metaphorically and have made book structures incorporating monitors and video. These works play with the changing perceptions of what a book is and how we read information. They highlight aspects of a culture, our culture, which is inundated by television images and saturated by electronic data.


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