Theatre Company Les Enfants Terribles have brought sound, theatrical design and storytelling to Blickling Estate in Norfolk to examine the importance of books, and prompt debate about the threat posed to them and their place in a changing world.
The Word Defiant! is a series of installations throughout the Jacobean mansion and out to the garden Temple that reveals stories of books that have been banned, burned, redacted, drowned, neglected and superseded, with each linked to the theme of books under threat.
The inspiration for the installations comes from the books in Blickling’s own library which is currently undergoing a comprehensive five year conservation programme to ensure its survival, after being plagued by damp and death watch beetle for some years.
This project is part of Trust New Art, a programme of contemporary arts at Trust places which began in 2009 in partnership with Arts Council England.
Blickling’s is one of the most significant country house libraries in England, with over 12,500 volumes making up the largest and oldest book collection in the conservation charity’s care.
One of the installations features a cascade of books flowing from the bookcases and across the Long Gallery which houses the library to draw visitors’ attention to this nationally important collection and its on-going need for conservation.
As visitors weave their way further through the mansion, they experience more installations that tell the stories of books under threat around the globe. This includes the story of Libreria Acqua Alta in Venice, the floating library where books are kept in bathtubs and boats to protect them from flooding. In the Chinese Dressing Room, a sound installation featuring maps and A-Zs spilling from a cupboard onto the floor, signify how digital technology has superseded examples of the printed word.
Outside, an abstract decorative scheme in the garden Temple draws attention to the neglect of old, out of print or archived books.
There are also further installations in the house, each telling the story of recent world events that have impacted a book’s survival.