Deconstructed Books

Back in 2006 when I started blogging I was seeing a lot of art made from old books. And there is still a lot of it around; in this entry I will mention four Melbourne artists making art made from books.

Art made from old books has become a new genre. It emerged from Duchamp’s experiment Unhappy Readymade (1919), a geometry book destroyed by the Parisian weather, and has been repeated with variation until it become a genre. In recent years old books have been stacked, folded and cut into new works of art. Art made from books is return of literature as the subject for art, not in the form of illustrations, as it was in the 19th century, but as deconstructed books. The 19th century virtue of saving printed matter has become a vice in the 21st century. There are too many books, too many redundant books, too many ordinary books, too many books to save. Legal deposit libraries that try to collect all printed matter, like State Library of Victoria, are growing exponentially. Where the content of the book is unloved the love of books is being transferred to a love of the material that makes books.

There are many ways in which books are turned into art but generally the book is destroyed in the process. I saw a good sculpture from made from a book without damaging the book, “Evil” (2005) by Peter Madden at Gertrude Contemporary Art. The book, a small dictionary, was held together with 3 G-claps and all these illustrations of snakes were curling out from between the pages. A little knowledge, and it is “The Little Oxford English Dictionary”, is a dangerous thing.

Rosie Miller cuts the book’s pages free from binding and rebinds them into the curve of a wave. Rosie Miller exhibited her unbound curved sculptural books in a wood cabinet with shelves, in April 2009 at Platform. I also saw her “Untitled” (2008) wave of paper at Lindberg Gallery earlier in the year. It is ironic that Miller who studied printmaking at the VCA is now making sculpture from printed matter.

Katherine Hattam used paper pasted with the title and dedication pages of Penguin paperbacks as the support for a series of still life paintings. Some of the books in these still life images have the collaged real spines of real paperbacks. I saw her painting “The Divided Self” (2006) and other paintings at Australian Galleries.

“In Memorium” (2008) by Samantha Harris a book forms plinth for a small scene made from paper and twigs. The twigs are wrapped in ribbons of paper cut from book pages. Harris’s scenes are literary in that they recreate the way we construct stories about our own home.


About Mark Holsworth

Writer and artist Mark Holsworth is the author of two books, The Picasso Ransom and Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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