Nell Taylor and the Science of Obscurity

Founded by Nell Taylor in 2006, The Chicago Underground Library is a new model for open, location-specific archiving of independent and small press media. Previously nomadic, in January 2010 the CUL took up permanent residence in Chicago’s Red Tape Theatre. On July 10, 2010 the Chicago Underground Library will hold its second annual Science Fair + Book Launch, called the Science of Obscurity, which is the CUL’s annual lead up event to Chicago’s Printers’ Ball. The event features new, unpublished, and in-progress works presented as science fair experiments as well as a public “book launch” via catapult, scientist speed dating, and digital readings. Culturebot contributor Calamity West met with Nell Taylor to find out more.

Who was the brainchild behind The Science of Obscurity?

It was a series of people just throwing ideas at the wall. First we thought it would be funny to launch books from an actual catapult, you know? To have a real book launch? Then A.D. Jameson brought up the idea of a science fair for literature.

What’s going to make this year’s Science of Obscurity different than last year’s?

This year it’s going to be…bigger and better.

People say that about every event they do every year and eventually that’s going to have to stop. It makes me think about corporations having to make even bigger profit every year – it’s so completely unstable and I think that it’s the same for event planning! You have to have a manual for each event, or something. “I’m gonna to offer you more than I offered you the last time!” and when you do stuff like that, that’s how Bernie Madoff and the oil spill happens only we don’t want to kill birds. So you see how exponential growth in awesomeness can be unattainable, but it’s only our second year, so we don’t think that’s we’ve blown it out yet.

So, this year we have A D Jameson exhibiting. Jen Karmin is returning and so is the literary magazine Two with Water. We’re also introducing two new people who we’ve never worked with before: Vicki Lim and Libby Walker. We also have Mairead Case.

We have a special project from the The Book Bike, which is the guy who rides a tricked out bike all over Chicago and hands out free books. So he will be there, and so will the Knowledge Factory, which is an artist collective. They do these really great things with audience participation. They categorize audience-brought objects based on what facet of Chicago they represent.

We’re featuring readings this year from Quipple Quick which is from Featherproof Books. It’s an application that gets short stories delivered to your phone. So we’re introducing a technology aspect this year to the science fair as well.

We’re also going to have the component of “Science of Speed Dating”, which is where you can sit down for five minutes with a scientist and ask them whatever you want.

I understand you had an open call for submissions. How did that work out?

Well, we tried to get the word out as much as possible, and people were still shy which is frustrating to us because the whole reason we do these open call events is so that people feel like they’re welcomed and accepted and that it’s something anybody can participate in. But still we end up with a lot of people that we already know. We got two people that we didn’t know this year, which is great – it should be more than that. I think it is a challenge both to get the word out to people and also to make people feel comfortable enough that they’ll to submit to something with people they don’t know. They might assume that even though we say it’s “open” it’s really not because unfortunately that’s the way a lot of “call for submissions” work. But we want to get the word out and we want people to know that when we say “open” we really mean it. And we’ll continue to do so, as much as we possibly can.

What makes The Science of Obscurity unique to Chicago?

Because The Science of Obscurity is an Underground Library of Chicago event, it’s built off that model. We really want to expand the library and we’re building new software for our website so that anybody who wants to start their own Library can download it and then they can do it themselves. So just as our catalogue is an open source so are all of our ideas.

We feel like all of our ideas come from other people and their inspirations. But for the most part, everything that we’ve come up with is something that could be done in other places and is something that should be done in other places. We work really hard to come up with these ideas that encourage participation and make people feel welcomed. I think that’s something every city should be able to have. So, if other people wanted to start one they should and we’re available via email and phone to talk with people; if you want to start your own library let us know! If you want to start your own Science Fair we’ll help you figure it out!

Anything else you’d like to mention regarding the Underground Library of Chicago or The Science of Obscurity?

It’s a lead up event for the Printers’ Ball which is an annual event that attracts over 2,000 people. It’s going to be hosted at The Ludington Building. It’s hosted by them and the Poetry Foundation. It’s an event that features the work of over a hundred publishers with material available to everyone for free (as long as they’re over 21). And it’s going to be fantastic this year! We’re in discussion for a robot controlled swag corral and petting zoo because this years theme is PRINT <3 DIGITAL. So it’s all about getting people to think differently and stop being freaked out by the internet and this, of course, will include bloggers. And oh! Speaking of bloggers! The Underground Library of Chicago is the featured blog for the Printer’s Ball, so we’re going to be producing thirty days of content in the month of July. One post a day leading to the event so people can check in.

What do you have planned for the “thirty days of content”?

There will be a guest posts from other Chicago publishers and writers, stuff by our volunteers and we’re going to go back through our archives and try to figure out (looking at what we have in our archives) how we got to where we’re at in Chicago history. We’ve also been doing some video interviews with people –going to different festivals and book stores asking them what their favorite or forgotten or under recognized publications are so we’re going to have some of that as well.

What inspires you to take text and make it “living” in another genre?

It’s important that our library isn’t just a depository. It’s a collaborative effort. Finding things that people wouldn’t necessarily seek out in the first place. No one is going to seek out someone’s grandma’s cookbook and a cult conspiracy theory, you know? No one is going to know that that even exists necessarily. There’s no way for them to go find it. You go to a “regular library” and you look something up, because it’s what you’re looking for. With us, we need to figure out different ways to get people interested. The writing people, the Lit people, they’re going to be interested in it no matter what because it’s a part of their community, it’s how their brain works – so it makes sense for us to call upon other artist’s or people who aren’t artists at all to see how it might better relate to them.

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