From Across the Way: Libby Scarlett’s “A 19–2 View”

February 11, 2015 by

In the first part of this series, we learned about AIE Artist’s Book Resident Libby Scarlett and her practice, which often tells stories through everyday mundanity. Obsessing over details that no one else may have noticed, her quiet musings contemplate home, connection, loneliness, and love: threads that continues with her newest book, A 19–2 View.01-20150206-libby-scarlett-1189Amidst the scraps and frenzy of book production, a pristine, finished copy of A 19–2 View emerges, its simple debossed cover a mysterious container for the stories that lie within its pages. A grid of fifteen dots and the book’s title, stamped in gold leaf, catch the light of overhead fluorescents. Against the midnight blue cover, they glisten like lights from across the way—exactly how the night scene looked from Libby Scarlett’s balcony.

The hardcover, perfect-bound book transports the reader to the balcony of Libby’s flat in east Amsterdam, where she sat every night with a cup of tea, making up stories about her neighbors’ lives after they had refused invitations to meet her. One by one, Libby introduces us to the “tiny lives” she observed over several months, guided by her handwritten narratives and simple sketches of their gardens and balconies.20-20150206-libby-scarlett-115108-20141120-LibbyScarlett-177A 19–2 View opens to a modular grid of circular cutouts, mirroring the apartments’ architecture. They act as windows to each apartment, sketched in Libby’s delicate, graphic line work and rendered in the same midnight blue as the cover. A 19–2 View is an intimate experience of discovery and exploration: every page turn reveals another balcony, another neighbor, and another narrative, gently guided by Libby’s hand and voice. The structure invites us to interact with the pages; to peek through, to skip ahead, or to return to a particular apartment.


Throughout the book, Libby’s writing acts as field notes, running between the grid of diecut circles in haiku-like clauses. The stories she tells are as fragmented and ordinary as the moments of daily life she glimpses from afar. Each detail becomes a clue, printed and impressed into the paper by the Vandercook press. Her poetically precise language infuses each person we meet with charm and absurdity.

Libby first introduces an apartment with a garden patio that’s so well-manicured, it makes the rest of the gardens look neglected. We meet a garish Buddha poster flapping in the wind, an expensive-looking apartment that no one will rent, and a man with a semi-circular saw he might let us borrow. From the view of her balcony, we peer as Libby peered.

Outdoor dinners on plastic patio furniture, no longer white from winters.
Stained glass squares colouring her invited six a yellow-green.
Sea sick six.
All substitutes for the one she seems to want more.

From these snippets emerge quiet moments of longing, routine, young love, and passing time.

06-20141118-Libby-Scarlett-052In weathered objects left on patios or in overcrowded balcony parties Libby is never invited to, her loneliness mixes with the subtle humor she uses to portray them. A 19–2 View is a charming, quiet contemplation—filled with “parts of routines, fights, love, nudity, dinners, laughter, cleaning, life,” as Libby writes in the introduction—whose intimate fictions feel as though they are true; if not in these pages, then surely in our own lives.

Grab your copy of A 19–2 View by visiting our bookstore. For more of Libby Scarlett’s work, visit her website, and check out our previous blog post. Get a behind-the-scenes look at her book’s production on Flickr.