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Q&A: artist Cliff Eyland on his 5,000 paintings project at Halifax Central Library

(image: courtesy Cliff Eyland)

(image: courtesy Cliff Eyland)

You began working with 3″ x 5″ cards and libraries while a student at NSCAD in the 1980s. What was your first project? I paid a printer to cut H.H. Arnason’s History of Modern Art into file-card-sized pieces with a hole in then, and then I placed the pieces of paper into the library’s Author/Title catalogue so that if you looked up Picasso, for example, you would find 55 Picasso images from Arneson’s book filed behind the last entry on Picasso. The idea was to “illustrate” the library’s text-file cards in the catalogue drawers.

At the time I thought that I was “reviving” conceptual art because many of us young students back then though that conceptual art was over. So I had an antiquarian attitude to conceptual art which, of course, was completely wrong: it went on to take over everything. That was an example of artists getting ahead of themselves, thinking that what they had assimilated had also been assimilated by the wider world.

After that I continued to do library-related things in both libraries and galleries. I hid drawings in books and I installed paintings in libraries and in art galleries while thinking about the organization of images. I have been trying to reconcile the library and the art gallery, which are usually seen to be very different institutions.