Edmund de Waal Talks Art and Exile

May 8, 2020  • Amina Akhtar

Paula Crown sat down with Edmund de Waal to talk about his 2019 work “The Library of Exile”, how he works best in the studio, and his favorite composers. De Waal, the Institute’s previous Harman/Eisner Artist-in-Residence, is the best-selling author of The Hare With Amber Eyes and an internationally acclaimed ceramicist known for his large-scale installations of porcelain vessels, often created in response to collections and archives or the history of a particular place.

An artist herself, Crown brought a unique lens to the conversation.

Read an excerpt from the Institute’s IDEAS magazine in which De Waal describes his work:

“So this summer has been my summer of Aspen—and Venice. Over the last years I realized I needed to create a new library for this city of libraries. It was to be a library of exile of 2,000 books written by those who have been forced to flee their own country or exiled within it: a library of exile for a city of exiles, of translation, of a plurality of voices, of languages in flux. And of printing. I started to study the beautiful early editions of the Talmud printed by Daniel Bomberg in the early 16th century and sent out across the world. When I saw how he kept text and commentary on text alive on a single page, I understood that text can be plural too.

I found the Ateneo, the beautiful 16th-century building that has been a meeting place for over two centuries. I painted the external walls of the library with liquid porcelain, and wrote a new text—a listing of the lost and erased libraries of the world from Alexandria and Antioch, through burned rabbinical and madrassah libraries, to the looted library of my grandfather in Vienna, all the way to Sarajevo and Mosul. As I wrote I realized that in writing one text on top of another, one history smudging the one beneath, I was creating a palimpsest of voices.” 

You can view the Library of Exile online through The British Museum.

Read de Waal’s full piece for the Aspen Ideas Magazine.

Check out Crown and De Waal’s previous conversation on stage to celebrate the 100th anniversary of bauhaus arts

Check out Edmund de Waal’s Library of Exile online.

Learn more about the Aspen Institute Arts Program.