Letchworth: A Vision of Utopia saw the world's first garden city of Letchworth commission eleven new artworks for public display. Each artist was given access to the archives of the International Garden Cities Exhibition and asked to reconsider the city's unique heritage and corresponding artefacts in a contemporary context.
Being principally interested in ideas of morality I first decided to revisit the book that began the garden cities movement – Ebenezer Howard's Garden Cities of To-morrow, first published in 1898. A free-thinking man acquainted with poets, philosophers, anarchists and social reformers, Howard sought to remedy what he felt was an increasing sense of alienation felt by people in the grip an advancing industrial revolution. The book described in fine, practical detail how an industrial city could be built in which people could also live harmoniously with nature.
^ Title page and frontispiece from the 1902 edition of To-morrow; Ebenezer Howard
For the exhibition I proposed spending the entire production budget on a single, unique edition of To-Morrow, and to make this the subject of a treasure hunt. To find the treasure, a code, to be published on the Letchworth website and on social media, would need to be deciphered. On cracking the code, and thus finding the book, the hunter would then be faced with a moral decision of their own: to take the book away without fanfare and to keep it for themselves; or to donate it back to the Garden Cities Exhibition, where it would be named after them and kept on permanent public display. In this way the morality of the contemporary Letchworthian would be tested in the light of the city's founder.
Using the original text sourced via sacredtexts.com, the book was re-designed and re-set throughout, and produced by master bookbinders Brignell's of Cambridge. It was printed on archival paper, with hand stitched sections and a woven headband of brown and gold, and a calf-skin cover inlaid with gold and palladium leaf.
To launch the treasure hunt the following code was published online:
941.07SIM 232.91BRO 973.915BRY 520WEB 364.164KON 956.7044KAR
These numbers refer to the Dewey decimal system used to file and locate library books. Being that the book was hidden in Letchworth's public library, anyone who could identify these as book numbers would find that they corresponded to six titles:
941.07SIM = Brendan Simms, Three Victories and a Defeat
232.91BRO = Sylvia Browne, The Two Marys
973.915BRY = Bill Bryson, One Summer
520WEB = Jeremy Webb, Nothing: From Absolute Zero to Cosmic Oblivion
364.164KON = Angus Konstam, Pirates of the Seven Seas
956.7044KAR = Janis Karpinski, One Woman's Army
Keen-eyed hunters who pulled these books would recognise that each title contains a number. Put together, these make a new number –
– which was the precise location of the treasure, concealed in a red, numbered solander box in the local history section immediately after a book entitled 'Utopia'.
The book was located on the first day by Sarah Harris. Commenting on how she and her husband found the book, she said:
'We had heard about the treasure hunt and were waiting for the clue to be published. We figured out that the code referred to library books and that being a Letchworth thing it was very probably going to be in Letchworth library. What we didn't figure out was that the code referred to specific books that would give us the final location. It's a small library so instead we just decided to work through all the books looking for anything unusual. It took us more than two hours but we got there!'
I was particularly interested in this method of discovery as it raises another, entirely unanticipated, moral idea: that some knowledge coupled with sheer determination can be as effective as 'pure' intellectual deduction.
Sarah chose to donate the book back to Letchworth. It is now known as The Harris Codex.