the word made visible
The first time I remember seeing a book physically manipulated into a visual display I was hurrying past the window of a shop in Paris 3 years ago. The place was closed so I couldn't find out anything more about the piece or the intent behind it. At the time I couldn't tell whether it was an antique– some kind of Edwardian gentlemen's hobby? a lost folk art?– or a modern work made out of an old book. The piece, in my recollection, resembled that in the photo directly above, with pages folded, tucked and fanned into a geometrical three-dimensionality. I was drawn to its intricacy and mathematical refinement. It was delicate and old-looking yet without frills or baroque curlicues.
I now know there are a number of people creating "book sculptures", "altered books", "book surgeries" or any of a number of terms for books as raw material. It appears to me that some works are "autopsies" – pulling out or highlighting their subject matter visually, eviscerating selected passages– where the specificity of the book's subject or title plays a role (Su Blackwell and Brian Dettmer for instance. Jones calls his site "bibliopath" as in Greek "pathos"– feeling, suffering and "-path": one practicing such a treatment or one suffering from such an ailment). Others simply make use of sheer volume (no pun intended): stacks of bound paper of any sort will do, the more disposable the better. Cara Barer immersed phone books and old computer manuals in her bathtub and photographed the engorged and exploded results. Long-Bin Chen carves stacks of Sotheby's catalogues and phone books into figurative totems. (Truly, is there any other use at all any more for phone books other than fodder for an artist's buzz saw? A physical way of dealing with information overload).
Yesterday a friend mentioned she'd convinced her mother to get rid of a fair number of old books. These had, it seems, long since given up their usable lives to become piles in front of windows and an infringement upon navigable space. I wonder what they could have become in the right hands!
Addenda--now with links...
Images: Cara Barer, Georgia Russell (next 2 rows), Noriko Ambe, Brian Dettmer, Su Blackwell (3 images), Long-Bin Chen, Nicholas Jones (2 images)