David Ruggles Prizewinner Oscar Salguero on his Interspecies Library, Micrographia, and Conceptual Collecting

Image courtesy of Oscar Salguero

Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Oscar Salguero, of NYC, who recently won the grand prize in the 2023 David Ruggles Book Collecting Contest.

Where are you from / where do you live?

I am originally from Lima, Peru. I grew up there until I was 18 years old and have lived in the US since. Currently I live in Brooklyn, NY with my wife and cat.

What did you study at University? What do you do now for an occupation?

I studied Industrial Design at Virginia Tech. Interestingly, during Freshman year I was on track to become a Food Science major but was later seduced by the world of objects and stories. The only experience closest to biology I had was a collaboration with the entomology department for a design project. Currently, I am a freelance design consultant and independent curator focused on emergent cultural expressions, technologies, and the role of art and books in the evolution of our collective imagination.

Please introduce us to your book collection.  What areas do you collect in? 

More than a collection, I refer to it as a gathering of conceptual documents. I call the project “Interspecies Library” and it focuses on artists’ books and ephemera exploring alternative multi-species futures. The books are mostly either self-published or produced by smaller independent publishers or even by students from around the world (places like Chile, Indonesia, Lithuania, Iceland, South Korea, Australia and many many more).

The collection began around 2016, when I started noticing terms such as “interspecies”, “non-human”, and “multi-species” appearing in some artists’ books. I soon began seeing these books as expressions of the zeitgeist of our time: a growing awareness and interest in our vital relationships and entanglements with other species (mushrooms, plants, insects, bacteria, aquatic and terrestrial animals). 

At a time of climate crisis, massive species’ extinction, and further alienation from nature, I feel a strong need to gather and preserve these printed works. Together they might serve future generations as portals into our thoughts, proposals, and emotions in response to the ecological fragility of the first quarter of the 21st century.

How many books are in your collection?

I have over 200 documents (books and ephemera). By books I refer to all sorts of printed matter, from conceptual thermal printed scrolls to the more traditional codex. By ephemera I refer to anything from posters, show invitations, business cards, USB drives, etc. 

What was the first book you bought for your collection?

In 2013 or 2014 I bought a copy of Pig 05049 (2006), an incredible master thesis project book by Dutch designer Christien Meindertsma. The book has a yellow plastic, pig ear tag on the spine. I never saw a book like that before or since. The content is equally fascinating, it is presented as an encyclopedia of products that can be manufactured with elements/materials that derive from a single pig (anything from its blood, fat, bones, meat or skin). It is a delicate object that presents a gruesome study into industrial animal agriculture. A tour into how a biological organism becomes raw material. In one page, it even describes how the book itself that you are holding in your hands is glued with bone glue derived from the bones of the pig.  

Pig05049_ChristienMeindertsma_Photo_JannaTew.jpg (100.6 KB)
Janna Tew

Pig05049 by Christien Meindertsma 

Pink Chicken Project by Nonhuman Nonsense
Sean Davidson

Pink Chicken Project by Nonhuman Nonsense 

Interspecies Futures at Center for Book Arts
Sean Davidson

Interspecies Futures at Center for Book Arts

Image BecomingaBat_NoamYoungrakSon_Photo_SeanDavidson.jpg
Sean Davidson

From the Interspecies Library, Becoming a Bat by Noam Youngrak Son

From the Interspecies Library, Nimiia Vibie by Jenna Sutela
Sean Davidson

From the Interspecies Library, Nimiia Vibie by Jenna Sutela

How about the most recent book?

The most recent one challenges the traditional concept of the book as it is actually a set of two scent bottles (“Soma:Spore” and “Matsutake Musk,” 2023) nested in a mycelium-formed container and with a story card attached to them. The artist, Agustine Zegers from Chile, operates under the project name ‘Agar Olfactory’ and delivers a special account for each fragrance. For example, Matsutake Musk represents a fictional scent created in response to growing symbiotic processes between fungi and humans in the year 2077.

And your favorite book in your collection?

Perhaps one of the most significant ones is Pink Chicken Project (2021). This is a book I commissioned to the Swedish collective Nonhuman Nonsense as part of a show I curated at Center for Book Arts, titled Interspecies Futures [IF] (2021). It was designed and bound in Berlin in collaboration with a dear friend Claudia de la Torre, founder of backbonebooks. The premise is spectacular: What if by employing genetic engineering (a gene drive) we were to turn all common chickens’ color into pink. pink feathers, pink bones. Could their fossilized pink bones leave a pink trace in our geological era, indicating to far-future humans that this is the century in which we began to genetically modify organisms on a mass scale?  

The book exists as a single edition and it’s presented as a rock slab with a fossilized pink chicken skeleton embossed in the cover plate.

Best bargain you’ve found?

Maybe a signed copy of The Age of Spiritual Machines (1999) by Ray Kurzweil. I found it at Housing Works Bookstore in NY for $10. Ray is a principal researcher and AI visionary at Google. Years after this publication, he proposed the concept of the Singularity, as the moment in which computers overtake the capabilities of the human brain (by 2045). I believe his books will be regarded as key documents in the next stage of the human/AI paradigm, an era that already has a name: the Novacene (as coined by James Lovelock at the age of 99, back in 2019 in the book Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence).

How about The One that Got Away?

I saw an original Codex Seraphinianus (NY edition, 1983) book also at Housing Works Bookstore maybe 4 years ago and it was only $150. I know these go for up to $1000 in decent condition these days. This book is an interesting example of speculative imagination applied to an encyclopedia format. In the 21st century it has proven to be quite influential, especially to many of the artists whose works fall at the intersection of science and artistic research, such as Dr. Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, editor of Synthetic Aesthetics: Investigating Synthetic Biology’s Designs on Nature (2014).

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

First edition Micrographia (1665) by Robert Hooke. If only just to feel the same sense of awe people might have felt upon opening the book’s most dramatic foldout which depicted a drawing of a magnified flea at a scale and in detail never imagined before. It might have felt like science fiction. Like jumping dimensions into a new physical realm.

Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?

My favorite bookstore remains Strand Books in NY. I still find magic among the stacks there. In terms of bookstores that I haven’t visited but that I am constantly in awe of the material they carry: Inga Books in Chicago, and Punch in Bucharest, Romania. Both independent and really up to date in terms of emerging areas of artistic and philosophical research. Another great one is 50 Watts Books in Philadelphia. They specialize in “visually-striking and unusual books from around the world.”

What would you collect if you didn’t collect books?

Rocks. They are the books of deep time.