Exhibitions: Milcom Memorial Reading Room and Attention Library

Photo: Zachary Hoos

The Milcom Memorial Reading Room and Attention Library
Presented by Monira Foundation 
At Mana Contemporary, New Jersey. 888 Newark Ave Ste 440 NJ 07306
On View: Jan-Dec, 2023
Visiting hours: Fridays: 10:30am-12:30pm and Sundays: 3pm-5pm

Since 2018, the Monira Foundation has been gratified to support The Milcom Memorial Reading Room and Attention Library, installed and maintained by the “Esthetical Society for Transcendental and Applied Realization (now incorporating the Society of Esthetic Realizers),” better known as ESTAR(SER). The mysterious Milcom Reading Room, originally tucked away in a basement space at Mana Contemporary, has been, as of 2022, re-installed in the Monira Galleries fourth floor of Mana, bathed in gentle light flowing from the northerly windows.


Named for Learned “Hogfoot” Milcom (1928 – 1972), the space functions as an ongoing project of custodial devotion directed to the matter of attention — its powers and processes. Milcom, a foundational (if fugitive) figure in the resuscitation of ESTAR(SER) to its present-day cohesion as a research collective, was a polymath of the archive. He dedicated his life to amassing, maintaining, and preserving a wonderous (possibly endless) collection referred to as the “W-Cache,” an accumulation that attests to the authenticity and existence of the elusive Order of the Third Bird. A clandestine guild of artists spread across time and geography, the “Birds” dedicate themselves to the practices of attention, sometimes joining up to participate in collective rituals of sustained concentration upon a work of art. Though little is known about the Birds’ membership, Milcom was diligent in his lifetime in his care of piecemeal traces they left behind. The spirit of his stewardship is alive in this room that bears his name, and is a common objective shared by its contemporary caretakers.


Comprised of books, ephemera, painting, prints, sculptures, objets trouvés, and more, the W-Cache is a teeming archive, one that almost seems to take on a life of its own. Within the Milcom Reading Room, a representative selection of its holdings is on display, and the shelves lined with volumes from its library, all available for a visitor’s perusal and contemplation. Moments occur around the space that are meant to be explored. Visitors are encouraged to pull books from the shelves, leaf through pamphlets, and examine the paintings that hang from the walls, and the eclectic objects of attention on display. 


Our age is shaped by its devaluation of attention. So often, sustained concentration on any sole subject is cast aside as ever more demands are placed upon individuals to work harder, more, faster, better; as attention is realized by greater forces to be a resource ripe for exploitation. The Milcom Reading Room exists in service to the care and feeding of attention. It issues no demands to the visitor, but only inquiries: what do you want to pay attention to, and what might you do to protect that resource? How might our attention, together, be nurtured? In keeping with the tenets of the purported Birds, the ESTAR(SER) custodians of the Milcom Reading Room and Attention Library encourage the lingering visitor to attend to their own practices of attention.


—Jessica Holmes, 3 February 2022

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Program support provided by the New Jersey Council for Humanities Grant