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Parthenon Made of Banned Books

Friday, July 14, 2017

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The Parthenon has a temporary twin—and it’s made out of censored books.

Designed by Argentinian artist Martine Minujin, the structure is featured in Kassel, Germany’s Documenta 14, an art festival that features innovative works. The megalithic structure was built on the Friedrichsplatz site in Kassel, as a multi-metaphor symbol that stands against political oppression.

The Book Parthenon

The Book Parthenon, as the structure is known, is built out of 100,000 copies of a shortlist of 170 books that have been banned, or are currently banned, in countries all across the world. All of the books were donated for this work, allowing people to become personally involved by contributing titles they felt a special connection with.

On top of this, the books were strapped to a steel frame in plastic sheeting, which protects the books, makes them visible and allows light to permeate the structure. Titles that can be found onsite include The Bible, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Little Prince.

"The work has exactly the same dimensions as the Parthenon—70 meters [230 feet] in length, 31 meters [101 feet] in breadth and 10 meters [32 feet] in height," one of Documenta's curators, Pierre Bal-Blanc, told The Local.

The curator went on to note that the art installation also is slightly slanted in orientation, which provides a more impressive presence “because you get a side view of it rather than a frontal view."

The Documenta art festival also has an exhibition in Athens, which provides a tangible link to the German Book Parthenon. The original Parthenon still stands in the Greek city to this day, and its bookish counterpart in Germany alludes to the ideals of the world’s first democracy—Athens.

“Democracy without books is not democracy,” Minujin said in a statement.

The Friedrichsplatz Site

The location of the temporary installation is also of historical significance. On May 19, 1933, 2,000 books were burned on the Friedrichsplatz site, as part of Nazi-led campaign known as “Aktion wider den undeutschen Geist,” or the “campaign against the un-German spirit.”

Hellen Keller responded to the book burning in a letter. “You can burn my books and the books of the best minds in Europe,” she said, “but the ideas in them have seeped through a million channels, and will continue to quicken other minds.”

Close to a decade later, in 1941, the Fridericianum—which still served as a library at the time, but had also briefly been a parliament building—was caught in a bombing attack conducted by Allied forces. This same attack also flattened Kassel itself.

Minujin’s Previous Work

In 1983, Minujin was responsible for another very similar installation known as the El Partenón de libros, which was built after the collapse of the civilian-military dictatorship in Argentina, according to Arch Daily. The artist created the work for many of the same reasons the Book Parthenon now stands, but more specifically to provide access to the books that had been banned by the junta.

The structure was on exhibition for five days, after which the building was pushed over by two cranes. Visitors were allowed to take the books home.

The Book Parthenon will also face the same fate, with visitors again allowed to take books with them.

The Book Parthenon will be on display until Sept. 17.


Tagged categories: Artists; Color + Design; Construction; Design build; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa)

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