Art made out of books?

Don’t write in books – except with a very soft pencil and then erase the marks asap! Don’t turn down the corner to mark your place! Don’t draw on the pages! Don’t break the spine! Don’t cut the pages!

I’m not sure how or where I imbibed these rules, but they are very strongly embedded. My sister says she often can’t tell if I have read a book, because I only open it a few centimetres and peer between the pages. I am still shocked by the American woman who turned back the open pages of my Tuscan guidebook, so that for ever after it fell open at San Gimignano. And by my friend who took a blockbuster to read on holiday, and tore it in half because she only wanted to reduce the weight of her hand luggage.

It was something of a thrill to experience books as the medium of the artists’ works on display in the exhibition: Beyond the Book: an exhibition of artists who use books as their medium. I’m not sure what I expected, but I was moved by the first exhibit, called The Book Shop.

93 bookshopThis little scene was created by Su Blackwell, who also co-curated the show. It is about 15” X 10” ( 36cm X 22cm) and is made from ‘Deconstructed second-hand book in wood box with light’. In the booklet to accompany the exhibition she says

Using a scalpel, I carefully cut and fold book pages to craft intricate scenes evoking both childhood and possibility. New and unexpected histories and realities emerge through my alterations of the physical form and structure of the book. By producing books which combine a sense of loss and longing with playful humour and innovation, I simultaneously question and assert the importance of the weight, texture and design of the book in the digital age.

A scalpel, used on a book? On my! But I love the wit, the detail, the idea of making a book shop from a book.

And what about Ellen Bell’s creation, called On Reading?

93 On Reading

I love the red shoes. It’s made from ‘Child’s desk and two chairs with Penguin Book butterflies and tap shoes’. Looking closely you could see the familiar orange covers of old fashioned Penguin Books cut into the shapes of the escaping butterflies. Like the book shop I am transported back to childhood, to that sense of books being the path to other worlds, escape, sample the mysteries of adult life. (For me it was ballet shoes, but I understand the red tap shoes.)

93 Sew circleHere is an embroidery hoop made by Yvette Hawkins, entitled Sewing Circle. Many needlewomen will recognise the embroidery hoop at its structural core.






And another creation that explores language, written text and human responses is Drifting Attention by Jonathan Mathew Boyd.

93 drifting

I saw the exhibition at the Devon Guild of Crafsmen Gallery at Bovey Tracey, where it is on show until 8th June 2014. It then moves to London to Long and Ryle, in John Isip Street from 12th June – 17th July 2014.

If you are interested in books as objects of beauty you might also want to visit the website and blog of the Library of Lost Books. It reports on a project to rescue old library books, salvaging beautiful, old and unwanted books and sending them out to artists. ‘They come back re-made into things of beauty and wonder…’

Or if you can’t afford the price of the originals, you can buy made-from-books stuff at The Literary Gift Company. Among other things they have a page of ‘books made into things’.

Or you could buy a book about making art from books – if that’s not too self referring.

Update: having seen Norah’s earrings on twitter I add my Dutch Tintin brooch as a wiity little follow on for this blogpost.

93 Tintin br back 93 Tintin brooch

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Filed under Books

11 Responses to Art made out of books?

  1. Hi Caroline, I really enjoyed this post. I too have self-imposed, I think, rules about handling books similar to yours. From early childhood I considered books to be precious and treasured them in ways such as you described. However I was also punished for removing them from younger siblings who did not treat them with the same respect. My children, too, learned to treasure their books and only once was a book torn, and that was by a two year old out of sheer frustration on a mammoth car trip, travelling from one side of Australia to the other.
    I love these artworks from books. They exude much love for, and an almost magical quality of books. They provide another avenue for appreciating printed books. I have a pair of book earrings which I love. They are made locally, with printed text on the outside and pages on the inside that I could write on if I so desired. I do enjoy wearing them.

  2. I too share these inhibitions, although I have been known to tear a book in half for travelling, although it was already well used.
    I love this artwork, such a great idea and, after all, more respectful to the book than pulping it!

  3. Caroline

    Thanks for adding your comments Anne and Norah. As a result of news about norah’s earrings I dug out my little Tintin brooch and added them to the post above. Still not tearing books, but I might make some paper beads out of book pages one day soon.

  4. Maggie Butcher

    Yes, I share your inhibitions about folding corners and scribbling in books, although when I was at University ( reading English) I marked up all my own texts. My underlinings in my Penguin Classics editions of Middlemarch and Henry James now just make me smile! But just peering into books and not opening them properly (especially with large tomes, and provided the book is properly bound and not just cheaply glued) isn’t necessarily a good thing. We have a lot of large books on art which my husband carefully sets down and opens like this: Hold the book with its back on a smooth or covered table; let the front board down, then the other, holding the leaves in one hand while you open a few leaves at the back, then a few at the front, and so on, alternately opening back and front, gently pressing open the sections till you reach the centre of the volume. The book then lies flat every time you read it. (You can Google these instructions – along with a diagram! – should you wish to be as obsessive!)

    But Book Art: that’s a different thing altogether! Thanks for alerting me to the exhibition which I shall go and see in London. Do you know Tom Phillips’s ‘treated book’, The Humument?
    In 1966 the artist set himself a task: to find a second-hand book for threepence and alter every page by painting, collage and cut-up techniques to create an entirely new version. He found his threepenny novel in a junkshop on Peckham Rye, London. This was an 1892 Victorian obscurity titled A Human Document by W.H Mallock and he titled his altered book A Humument. The first version of all 367 treated pages was published in 1973 since when there have been numerous revised editions. A Humument is now one of the best known and loved of all 20th century artist’s books and is regarded as a seminal classic of postmodern art. It’s quite beautiful too and a lot of fun.

    • Caroline

      Good to hear from you Maggie. Thanks for the reminder about Tom Phillips and his treated book. I love getting recommendations on the blog. Thank you so much.
      And for the details of how to open heavy books without damaging them. I recall all the large books in your home, including the place you kept some that i had not yet exploited: under the coffee table. What next?
      Hope you are well

  5. I love the art objects made from books…I will go and visit the exhibition too
    Strangely I don’t mind defacing my own paperback fiction books with little corners turned in as reminders of my page or post it notes on the insides, but I’m not too keen when confronted with someone else’s notes in the margins of pages of a book I find from the market (I buy secondhand books and also collect old postcards but I love to read their messages).
    I recoil in horror if any book has a mug ring on the cover or sticky finger marks on the pages though!

    • Caroline

      Oh my! Coffee rings on the cover – I know, I know. Thank you Gill. I sometimes find pcs in second hand books – I remember one that was a change of address notification. It felt like I was just missing a short story, that it would unfold if only I knew a bit ore about Florence!
      Thanks for commenting. Enjoy the exhibition.

  6. Thank you for this interesting post. I’m the curator of The Library of Lost Books. The whole project came about because I saw hundreds and hundreds of old, damaged and discarded library books in skips at the library where I worked and I wanted to use them as a valuable artists resource rather than see them unceremoniously dumped or pulped. All the books we re-made were already damaged, either through use and age or were defaced with library stamps and stickers.
    What came out of the project was a sense of the real love that people have for books and raised questions about our relationship to books and paper in this digital age. Many of the artists involved seemed to approach their old book with a kind of reverence and often a reluctance to work into the book, which they had to overcome. When we exhibited the books in Birmingham last year I prepared myself to deal with heaps of negative criticism from the public, but which never came. I think people could see that what we were doing was honouring the book.
    This also comes across in the work that Su Blackwell and the other artists involved in Beyond the Book have made. I think these artists are doing us a great service by making us stop and reconsider the book which maybe will encourage us to consider carefully if we want to live in an Amazon Kindle world or if we are willing to support publishers and bookshops so that we might still have access to the paper book which we all seem to love so much.

    • Caroline

      Thank you so much for adding to this post. Other comments support your asserting that people have a real love for paper books. I have enjoyed your website for some time, and can see the honouring you mention.
      Sorry I didnt get to the exhibition. I know that you are participating in the symposium organised on the exhibition’s theme – Beyond the Book. It’s at Exeter University on Thursday 15th May. Sadly I wont be able to join you there either. I hope you will publish your paper on your website.
      Please visit this site again.

  7. Eileen

    Thanks so much Caroline for writing this blog. It is fab and the pictures are wonderful.
    I have some tiny books that form an exhibition in my work room and I often prop up a beautiful book to look at. And I covered a book with a number of bright silks in a crazy quilt style.
    If I borrow a book from the library that someone has marked in any way I am horrified. I once borrowed a book and every page was underlined with black biro – what was the point of that? Insane. I can’t read or make sense of anything that someone else has highlighted. I can feel myself getting angry now at the thought of it.
    However, to go back to one of your earlier blogs, a sweet inscription can really enhance a book.

    • Caroline

      Why haven’t I seen these tiny books of yours? I’ll tour the exhibition next time I visit.
      And dont get me started about defacing library books! Actually one of my earliest blogposts was on that subject.

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