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)
images: 30 pieces of silver (exhaled); 30 pieces of silver; Rorschach (endless column 2); work in progress with a steam roller; neither from nor towards; hanging fire (suspected arson); Mass: colder darker matter; cold dark matter: an exploded view; anti-mass
On a visit to the otherwise disappointing MAD, I discovered British artist Cornelia Parker (b. 1956). Known for conceptual installation pieces, she has been described as searching for "the elusive essence of material things." It is as though she captures things in moments of disaster, or more specifically, in moments of flux. Stopped in mid-combustion, preserved in mid-fall her work includes objects exploded, flattened, sliced, threaded, washed and suspended. Each work has struck me as surprisingly "alive" despite being in ruin.
Neither from nor towards is a collection of brick remnants from a seaside house which had fallen into the water, the bricks tumbled and eroded by tides. The work I saw, Rorschach (endless column 2), consisted of several pieces of iconic vintage silverware flattened by a 250-ton industrial press suspended a few inches from the floor. Perhaps too easily ethereal and haunting? Still, I found it ravishing. In Shared Fate (1998) she sliced mundane objects (a roll of daily newspapers for instance) with the guillotine used to decapitate Marie Antoinette, among other notables. Her “exploded” work, like Anti-Mass, includes charred remains of churches hit by lightning or destroyed by arson which she has gathered and hung. The particles appear like stardust that absorb light rather than emitting it...
* inanimation: 1) Lack of animation; lifeless; dullness; 2) Infusion of life or vigor; animation; inspiration.
Pietra paesina, also called “landscape stone,” “ruin stone,” “ruiniform marble,” and “Florentine marble” among other names, has been collected for centuries. The “marble” is in fact a type of limestone which when cut into slabs and polished reveals natural veining of iron oxides that resemble –with minimal poetic license–mountainous landscapes, castles, and ruins.
Displayed as natural objects of contemplation in European Renaissance wunderkammer the marble was also incorporated into decorative panels in architecture or furnishings. The stone was sometimes further embellished with painted detail, which, to me, seems sacrilegious.
Ruiniform marble hovers between natural specimen and artifact, abstract configuration and narrative. Its markings are angular, geometric, almost Cubist, vividly etched, yet undefined at the same time. Many stones have the suffused colors of a foggy twilight but some, like the specimen third from bottom, give off the sonorous (yes, sonorous) golden warmth of classical ruins.
How wonderful (in the true sense of the word) it must have been that first time to cut into something solid and “see” the spiritous atmosphere, to peer into something small and see distant wide vistas.
Images: St. Francis exorcising demons from Assisi, Giotto, c.1297; View of Delft, Vermeer, 1659-60; my specimen, which I had framed, was purchased a few years ago from Claude Boullé Galerie 28, Rue Jacob, in Paris.; 3 sample pietra; at bottom is another variant of pictorial stone, Cotham marble, quarried near Bristol, whose striations usually evoke natural landscapes of trees and stormy clouds.
Today I awoke saying the words "four out of five birds use wings" out loud.
I'm not sure what that was about. (Or what the connection with dentists might be...)
Images: American Flamingo John James Audubon, 1838; Dodo skeleton, Michael Sporn; Clairvoyance Rene Magritte self-portrait, 1936; Cassowary Jean-Baptiste Oudry, 1745; Young Girl Eating a Bird Magritte, 1927