Today is the last day of my Editorial Fellowship at the ICI. I’m sad to go but so grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to work, think and learn here. I’ve been infinitely curious about this place since I came to the neighborhood years ago and noticed the ICI’s sign while pumping gas at the station next door. It was my dream to find a way inside, and I’m happy to say that my experience here has been even more interesting than I could have imagined.
One of favorite things about this place is this place: the space in which all this working and thinking and learning happens. I started off in the back room, the Monkey Head laboratory, and became unduly attached to my little corner: the wide windows, the crooked desk, the scrawled-on walls and ceiling. Then one day I came to work and everything was moving. I learned that this is something the ICI does: it rearranges its spaces at will to best fit the needs of the present moment, which at the ICI is never the same as the last moment. Bookshelves were shifted, cabinets wheeled in and out, spaces and objects repurposed in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Old landscapes were obliterated as something new was scaffolded over it, and within a few hours I was in a brand new room.
I mourned for a moment before I realized nothing could be more characteristic of the ICI than this. In line with its ethos and mission, the ICI is constantly reactualizing itself. The building is a manifestation of the ICI’s mind, hard at work looking critically and creatively at everything — including itself. The spaces are always changing, configuring themselves in relation to the project of the day; nothing is too precious to move or reimagine or leave behind. The library runs on rhizomatic thought, inquisitively jumping from concept to concept (culture, performance, bookmaking, language, visuality) like an restless mind. Things emerge from storage and disappear back into memory. There are no hard and fast rules for how to organize yourself within the brain’s walls except be curious and be open and look closely. Each room is not just a physical space but a headspace, a place to throw your thoughts on the ceiling and pin your visions to the wall, a place from which to dream and question and conceptualize and redream, requestion and reconceptualize. And when the room has served its purpose it’s allowed to become something else, to burn itself up and start over again asking a new question, with enthusiasm instead of fear.
This is a perspective I’ve been honored to learn and digest and work within. In my six months here, I’ve contributed to two of the ICI’s on-going projects, the Monkey Head Project and the AIDS Chronicles 25th Anniversary catalogue. I’ve had the chance to ask and answer questions about art, book production, newspapers, philosophy, science, history, activism, death, sex and mourning. I’ve bound dozens of books, stained my fingertips black with newspaper ink and read the stories of countless dead men. I’ve listened to thoughtful voices from the past, taken stock of the present moment and imagined many futures. Throughout all of it I’ve been both supported and trusted by the staff here, and I’ve been humbled by their belief in my ability to contribute even a little to this dynamic and deeply compelling institution. I hope that this isn’t the end of my creative and professional relationship with the ICI, but wherever I go next, I’ll have the perspectives I learned here hooked around my neck like a pair of reading glasses, ready to reimagine new worlds.
— Hanna Bahedry