A Novel Community: Big Book Field Studio collaborators re-imagined Dickens through the city. Photo Credit: Kenny Wong.

Welcome, traveler,

to the place where distant lands meet. Walk the line, traverse the borderlands between Tucson and London, between the 19th century and just a few moments from now. Use this map to guide your way. Listen, too, your ears tip-tip-toeing, reading the line even when the horizon of the page sits just beyond your vision.

“Big” books—big in their ideas as well as their length—are powerful catalysts for creativity. Charles Dickens’ 900-page David Copperfield published in 1850 is a quintessential example. How can it be an invitation to create, rather than a tome to be tackled? Part of that answer lies in that cultural object we call the city, the collective stage for our common life.

Despite being an exemplary text of the Bildungsroman, the genre that enshrined the cultural power of the self-made man as the new hero of the middle-class social order, David Copperfield’s most haunting sections are about his orphanhood, how he wanders through the metropolis of London, and how he takes flight one day to seek out his aunt in Dover. In that depiction of an eighty-mile journey for survival and a better life, we find a fictional platform to collapse the world of this novel with our own border city of Tucson—both places marked by traversals, migrations, and ceaseless journeys.

The exhibition Book of the City: Exhibiting a Southwestern Urban Humanities invites you to immerse yourself in a new spatial biography of Tucson via Dickens. It brings into consciousness submerged, displaced, or erased narratives of the city and region through these nine emplaced readings of the novel. All of the exhibited collaborators turned to passages in the novel associated in some way with place—roadside haystacks, London pawn shops, and childhood homes, to name a few—to refashion the story in a new time and space. They have taken the novel in rare and beautiful directions—from bus shelters to thrift stores, from the train depot to the swap meet, from a shrine to lost souls to a cathedral in the desert, from the barely noticed quotidian sounds of housing to the thirty one phases of the moon. Stereographs, sound art, an assemblage of readymades, zines, films, live choreography—Book of the City is a Dickensian vision in the desert, a collective Tucsonan tale of a city.

Exhibited collaborators:

Kiana Lynn Macayan Anderson
Cara Buchanan
Stephanie Husman
Harris Kornstein
Yvonne Montoya
Gigi Robinson
Jennifer Saracino
Teagan Watkins
Kenny Wong

Initiated & curated by Jacqueline Barrios
Exhibition design & soundscape by Jonathan Jae-an Crisman

Jacqueline Barrios is Assistant Professor of Public & Applied Humanities at the University of Arizona, studying the global 19th century, literature, and the city. She founded LitLabs, is author of the forthcoming Dear Charles Dickens, Love South LA (UIowa Press) and co-leads the formation of the global Urban Humanities Network. She also has served as a public school teacher for many years in South Los Angeles.

Jonathan Jae-an Crisman is an artist, DJ, and urban scholar whose work considers the intersections of culture, politics, and place. He is Assistant Professor of Public & Applied Humanities at the University of Arizona.

Special thanks to MOCA Tucson, the University of Arizona College of Humanities, and all those who offered their time and insight during our process of making—your support of this work has been invaluable

Web design by Josh Nelson