images of BOOKBED exhibition



Ruth Beale explores the idea of the book and public library as generative public space and symbols of self education.


This exhibition has now finished.

Peckham Platform, SE15

31 January – 23 March 2014

An installation of three giant books, Bookbed proposed the book and library as creative spaces with symbolic presence in the collective imagination. A Bookbed manifesto drew on diverse literary references to demand “to open the doors and dismantle the big metaphorical gates. To clamber into a book and sail away into our imagination. To fall asleep and wake up with our faces stuck to the pages.”

Complete with mattresses, cloud cushions and duvet cover pages, the bed itself was a site for talks and discussions, and for visitors to relax and read. Another open book housed an Autodidact Library (featuring ‘teach yourself’ books on science, art, music, the way things work, as well as novels by autodidacts and critical writing about self education) – see resources below. The third hosted a writing table with materials for simple book-making and a weekly writing challenge.

Responding to Peckham Platform’s neighbouring Peckham Library – an iconic and well-used public building – Beale collaborated with library staff and poet-storyteller Sandra Agard on a series of creative writing workshops for young people exploring their dreams and aspirations. An index of their story titles was stitched into the Bookbed duvet page.

The full exhibition was made available to writing and reading clubs, and hosted several regular meetings by local groups. Programmed events explored the politics of education and history of autodidactism, the idea of the book-as-symbol, and current thinking about libraries in relation to culture, education and public space.

With many public libraries in London under threat, the artist said:

Libraries are one of the few meeting points between society and the individual, public and private. Like all public services, their value is being scrutinised in financial terms, and I wonder if their symbolic power can ever be measured. Working with young people at Peckham Library – a successful local library– was an opportunity to use the library as a space of imagination and preoccupation.

Ruth Beale

Bookbed exhibition gallery

Feel inspired? Try a Bookbed challenge

The young people involved in Bookbed wrote an index of made-up story titles, including:

  • Float to School
  • Hot tub full of dosh
  • Fly to Africa
  • Climb a Mountain

Write a story or poem for one of these titles in less than 500 words…

What is autodidacticism?

“Autodidact” is a term used for people who have learned and possibly mastered a subject with no formal training or schooling. The term “autodidact” combines two words: auto (means “self” in Greek) and didacticism (which means learning). Autodidacticism literally translates to “self-education.”

Autodidacts willingly and constantly seek out knowledge within a private or informal setting. They resort to books, videos, web content, etc. to educate themselves. They learn the basics and build on those fundamentals by themselves.

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In 2010 artist Harold Offeh took the idea of World’s Fairs as a starting point for an exhibition exploring visions of a future Peckham designed by the young people who live there.

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