Artists Space

Malicious Damage
The Defaced Library Books of Kenneth Halliwell & Joe Orton

Ilsa Colsell
with Francesca Coppa

Talk & Discussion
November 5, 2014, 7pm

The current Artists Space exhibition The Library Vaccine includes a section focused on the illicit collaborative actions of mid-century British writers Kenneth Halliwell and Joe Orton. Beginning in 1959 for a period of three years, Halliwell and Orton removed books from the shelves of their local library in Islington, North London, collaging their covers and adding sections of text before covertly returning them to the shelves. These actions eventually led to their six-month imprisonment on the grounds of “malicious damage.” Halliwell and Orton’s relationship ended tragically in 1967, with Halliwell murdering his partner before taking his own life.

Black and white image of an unmade bed under a wall covered with small images of people and idols.
[Black and white image of an unmade bed under a wall covered with small images of people and idols.]

Artist and writer Ilsa Colsell’s 2013 book Malicious Damage includes detailed documentation of the “defaced” book covers, which are still kept in the archives of Islington Library, alongside essays that shed a renewed light on the writers’ actions as gestures of acerbic creativity and social critique. For tonight’s event Ilsa Colsell will be in discussion with Francesca Coppa, Professor of English at Muhlenberg College, speaking on the collaborative earlier working life of Halliwell and his partner Joe Orton, who later became the more publicly renowned figure for his acclaimed play writing. Looking initially to methods of collage within their writing as well as the library book covers to describe their more equal and reciprocal approach to shared making, Colsell and Coppa will also explore the role of the archive and biographic study within the subsequent myth making around the lives and sensationalized deaths of the two men.