Visitors to Echo Park Lake know that the space is perfect for soaking in the sun, gazing at beautiful water lilies and — if you’re feeling especially adventurous on any given day — renting a pedal boat to spend some time on the water. The little vessels serve as temporary escapes, offering a chance to navigate something besides jam-packed highways and busy city streets.
Hoping to lure even more Angelenos onto the water, artist Sarah Peters will use Echo Park Lake as the space for a project that got its start in Minnesota. Working with local arts organization Machine Project, Peters brings us “The Floating Library,” a creative undertaking that's exactly what it sounds like.
Peters worked with Becca Lofchie, a bookmaker herself, to find a group of artists to contribute to the L.A. edition of the project. Half of the books on display come from L.A. artists while the other half come from “The Floating Library” collection. Amassed over the years, the collection includes work from artists in Minnesota and other states as well as international makers.
In 2013, Peters first introduced the project to casual nature lovers in Minnesota. This first iteration was more of an experiment, a prototype that would reveal whether people in canoes and kayaks enjoy visiting a library in the middle of a natural body of water. Peters wanted to see what would happen if she attempted to bring her vision of a floating library to life — both in terms of how locals would react and if nature would work for or against the raft.
“I literally did not even know if the raft would float,” she says. “The morning of the project was the first time I put it in the water.”
Once it did float, Peters wanted to explore the interactions not only between nature lovers and the books featured in the library but also among the visitors. The lake became a social space, an environment where strangers could find a temporary common ground.
“What’s been interesting about the library on Minnesota waters is that it is a place you’re meeting people you don’t know for the most part; the people in the other canoe or the other boat,” Peter says. “And while you at least have the common interest of being at a floating library together — which is already an affinity that’s perhaps abnormal — it still is an opportunity to talk to people in a way that you’re not in a common social space. You’re not at a bar, you’re not a concert, you’re not at wherever it is that strangers talk to each other.”
That might prove even more impactful in a city where denizens spend the majority of their time in cars, cursing each other under their breath or worse.
At first visitors seemed a little confused about the whole process, not returning some pieces after looking through them. In this iteration, Peters knows that friends of Machine Project will visit “The Floating Library” with some previous knowledge but she also hopes some Angelenos will stumble upon the project while enjoying a day at the lake.
This is the first time that “The Floating Library” offers books to people specifically in pedal boats but the element of surprise is the same no matter the vehicle. Many of the items don’t look like average books; in the past examples have included a book with pages made of Mylar, an accordion booklet that you can “read like text messages” and a book full of fishing bobbers and recipes.
“There’s this double surprise that happens where you know you’re boating along and someone’s shouting to you ‘we’re a library!’ and you see this cluster of canoes around a raft with a flag,” says Peters. “And you’re like what’s going on? And you go over there and someone says, ‘This is a library. Would you like to look at one of the books?’ And then they hand you something that’s maybe, you know, that’s clearly not a normal book. It’s an object that’s made by an artist.”
“The Floating Library” will be floating on Echo Park Lake Thu.-Sun., Feb. 11-14, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.