Book ’em

Pub date July 16, 2008
WriterAri Messer
SectionArts & CultureSectionVisual Art

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Michael Swaine is contagious. Whether investigating Reap What You Sew/Sewing for the People (2001, ongoing) in the streets of the Tenderloin, using braille to make a Plea for Tenderness (2007) at the Southern Exposure Gallery, or joining forces with Futurefarmers and the interdisciplinary design studio’s founder, Amy Franceschini, with whom Swaine began collaborating in 1998, the San Francisco artist brings a driven curiosity and sense of aesthetic detail to every project he touches. If you experience his work, you can’t help but get involved. He has been dubbed Futurefarmers’ "analog anchor," and his involvement in "BAN 5"’s Ground Scores: Guided Tours of San Francisco Past and Personal, guest-curated by Valerie Imus, is an ideal real-world interactive piece in a city of book lovers.

Swaine hopes his walking tours of individual home libraries, How to Organize a Public Library, elicit new audiences for art. He wants to reach "outsiders who don’t go to museums, who perhaps don’t want to go to museums," he said recently on the phone from his SF studio. "Maybe they just happen to love books." Everyone on the tour will be an "active participant," he said. To sign up, people will fill out a survey and must agree to include their own home library on the tour — if it fits the grid of walkable homes that weekend.

The artist is no stranger to walking tours. When he first moved to the Bay Area, he worked at the Exploratorium and fell in love with Bob Miller’s "light walks." These inspired Swaine’s now-legendary "weed walks" that he co-leads with botanist Archie Wessells, and first developed in the Exploratorium parking lot. For his 30th birthday, Swaine organized a 17-hour walk around San Francisco, meeting a different friend each hour and "connecting the dots."

I could connect with Swaine’s vision: my father, an architect in Santa Cruz, has long dreamed of building a library structurally based on the Iliad. What this means, exactly, neither of us knows, but talking about it has been a great bonding ritual for years. Maybe I can convince my dad to come up to the city and turn my sporadically gathered collection of 1970s poetry books and photography monographs into a Homeric fort. If I can, you are all invited to come by with plastic spears and knock it down. Then, with Swaine’s guidance, we might begin to farm the future, collaborating with the books at our feet.

HOW TO ORGANIZE A PUBLIC LIBRARY Walking tours Aug. 23 and 30 (also Sept. 20 and 27), noon–4 p.m. Locations to be announced. For reservations, call (415) 978-2710, ext. 136, or go to