Monday, February 13, 2012

The Human Library

The Human Library at Urban Rethink was brought to Orlando by Tisse Mallon. She asked 30 or so individuals to act as "Human Books." I was asked as well, so I packed a few sketchbooks in my bag and headed down to Urban ReThink. The Human Library is part of Arts Fest and therefore free to the public. When I arrived, Tisse gave me a Library Card which I had to fill out with my name, the title of my "book" and a brief description. The sketchbooks I brought along were filled with "incidents", which are cases where I was asked to leave an event because sketching was considered inappropriate. The library card was then placed on a board for people to "check out".

I wandered upstairs to start my sketch. A video was being shot of someone relating their story and I slipped quietly by. Seats in Urban ReThink were arranged in pairs with a number labeling each discussion space. I was told to prepare a 20 minute "book" so I knew about how long I had to sketch each person. Some "human books" talked for much longer than 20 minutes. A reader expecting a short story might find they were offered an epic.

Myk Freitag was the first person to check me out. We sat upstairs and I related my stories about Anarchists at Lake Eola, getting kicked out of the Holy Land and Needless Markup. I should have timed myself because I felt like I rushed certain story points. I'm not a person to stretch out a story. Regardless, he seemed pleased enough. With my stories told, I returned to my sketch. One fellow had a whole photo album and was wearing a sports uniform. His story lasted a long time. Tr3 Harris was relating a story that involved a knife. He handed the knife to his reader and she admired its length. I really wanted to learn more about his story.

Dance choreographer Linda Eve Elchak arrived and she cleared an area on the carpet. A beautiful dancer began to interact with Eve. Their bodies stayed connected as they moved gracefully. The dancer leaned back and Linda shouted, "I got you!" The movements were improvised and required trust. My sketch was done and I decided this was the human book I would have to check out. Linda's library card read... Communication Without Words, using improvisational dance to communicate. Linda and I sat Indian style facing each other. She told me to place my palms against hers. She knows I'm an artist and she suggested I close my eyes to heighten my other senses. She had a blind fold but we didn't use it.

She moved her hands and I followed. Her hands moved in fluid quick arcs and she always offered enough pressure so I could follow her lead. She told me to lead and my hands moved but with a stuttered deliberateness. She asked me to loosen up and feel the flow. My hands started moving rhythmically, fast then slow, a jazz improvisation of motion. She shouted, "Now your speaking to me!" The next conversation happened as we sat back to back. She asked me to follow as she rocked on her hips. Then I lead the "conversation" rocking gently at first and then the motions build in a spiraling motion upward. From the seated position we rose sometimes just arms touching as the action and widening arcs guided us up. It was thrilling!

I checked out Ryan Price who spoke to me about Open Innovation. Netflix offered a one million dollar prize to anyone who could improve the types of movie suggestions offered by 10%. Coders from around the world collaborated to solve the problem. In the end Netflix got more than it bargained for. The results were raised by more than 10%. Ryan is helping organize a Drupal Camp where participants hack for a cause. Hack is another way of saying modifying code. Not all hacking is evil.

After this book, I relaxed in the conference room for a bit. I had been checked out 5 times that day. There were snacks for the books, so I grabbed a few cookies. At 6pm I went to meet Terry at the Abbey to watch the Superbowl. Walking over, I bumped into Brian Feldman who is leaving town soon. He spoke about a paper and ink book he wants to see created called "Digital Feldman Analog Thorspecken." He was on his way over to the Human Library. I told him the books were just lounging around and he should check a few out. The Human Library is happening again on February 19th from 11am to 7pm. Stop in, check it out and learn from our community's limitless potential.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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