Saturday, 2 February 2013

Book art in the library

library book relief 1

Cambridge's Central Library has a café on the second floor with windows that overlook the shoppers milling about the mall of the Grand Arcade.  And it was here that I spotted this work of art.

library book relief 2

Books fly across three panels like birds, embedded in a white sky of thickly impastoed paint.  Others swim in a deep blue mass of compacted pages and spines.

library book relief 3

It's half-way between a 3-D sculpture and a 2-D painting:  it's a kind of book relief.

library book relief 4

The books are real books. They have been painted, cut, glued, ripped, propped, defaced, rammed and generally 'made strange'.  Thick cracked paint drips onto them.

We're not used to seeing books as 'mere' objects:  paper and cardboard pulp. Most of us may quail at throwing a book in the bin or using a book to light a fire -- even if it's a book we hate.

library book relief 5

But here, books are reduced to material objects. 

Or are they revealed as what they in fact are?  Blocks of rectangular paper with black lines of print, bound together by linen or cardboard?

library book relief 6

They remind me of my favourite novel, Italo Calvino's postmodern If on a Winter's Night a Traveller (1979; original Italian title: Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore). 

In Chapter 7, one of the characters (Irnerio who never reads books) explains that he makes sculptures out of books:

Faccio delle cose coi libri. Degli oggetti. Sí, delle opere: statue, quadri, come li vuoi chiamare. Ho fatto anche un'esposizione. Fisso i libri con delle resine, e restano lí. Chiusi, o aperti, oppure anche gli do delle forme, li scolpisco, gli apro dentro dei buchi. È una bella materia il libro, per lavorarci, ci si può fare tante cose.

Here's my translation:

I make things with books. Objects. Yes, works: statues, pictures, whatever you want to call them. I've even had an exhibition. I fix the books with resin, and they stay there. Closed, or open, or I may even give them shapes, I carve them, I open up holes in them. It's a beautiful material, the book, to work with, one can do so many things with it.

library book relief 7

Does your local library contain any art?  Have a look.  You might be surprised -- I was!

What and who:  The plaque next to the work informs us that this is Flight of Imagination, created "by young Cambridgeshire artist Aaron Lewis especially for Cambridge library cafe. It was produced using only salvaged books."

(I don't know what a salvaged book is.  Is this sentence supposed to make us feel better?  As in:  no books were harmed in the making of this art.)

Where:  Central Library, Grand Arcade, Cambridge.

Related post:
Justin Rowe's magical book sculptures



  1. I have loved looking at this art work for years - it is very inspirational and has stood the test of time - brilliant design, and most enjoyable - a great companion if you are having a coffee alone in the library cafe - thanks for writing about it in your blog. It has been there for so long I think people forget it is there.

    1. Dear anonymous, thank you so much for commenting (and I hope you manage to find this reply!). This is such a lovely comment. I love the idea of you sitting there, sipping your coffee and looking at the art work. It's so true that we start not to notice things that we are very used to. One thing that writing this blog has done for me is really to sharpen my senses and make me pay attention! It's so nice to know that people are enjoying the art that is scattered around Cambridge so thank you for letting me know. I haven't been able to find out anything about the artist (so far).

  2. LOVE this type of artwork. I especially LOVE that they used books to decorate the library! I would imagine that many people have never looked, I mean, REALLY LOOKED at how places are decorated. Sometimes it takes a kid to help you to see it, doesn't it? "Look Mom, there are BOOKS coming out of the walls!" I can just hear it! Thanks for just a thought-provoking post.


    1. 'Look, mum, there are books coming out of the wall' -- is so funny. I must now lurk in the café and stalk parents with small children, :) But the theme of books in the library is quite neat. I'm still not 100% sure how I feel about the "destruction" of the books but I do like the way they fly. Libraries often have art in them; I'm going to visit some others once it's warm enough to get on my bike for outings! Thanks for visiting and commenting!!

  3. That's actually pretty cool!

    1. Thank you! I'm so happy you came to visit and liked this! It's fun where all one can find art. :)

  4. I love this. Lots of scrapbookers gut books and create new works of art inside but I have never been able to bring myself to do it! You have inspired me to go and have a look at my local library and see what art treasures it contains.

    1. Oh, I'm so glad you liked it. Your connection to scrap booking is fascinating; I would never have thought of that! I am really timid when it comes to what I see as 'destroying' a book. I can't even throw away old horrible books; I give them all to charity... Did you see the beautiful things Justin Rowe creates with books? He also 'destroys' them. (Link at the bottom of my post.)

  5. That is very cool! Thank you for sharing those photos and your thoughts on this work of art. I will have to pay more attention the next time I am at the library.

    Tonight my family ate dinner at a new restaurant in our neighborhood. The owner chose to decorate the walls with photos and artwork by local photographers and artists. Their pictures and artwork is also going to be for sale. I was very impressed to see all of it there, it really adds to the character and charm of the place, which also has delicious food and great service.

    The name of the restaurant is called Horse Their Hollow, which apparently was an old nickname for where we live, back in the 1800's.

    Thank you for visiting and commenting on my blog again! It is my pleasure to return here! :)

    1. Libraries are amazing treasure troves of all sorts of things that aren't books. For example, our library also is a branch of the British Film Institute archive of films -- all available to be seen for free. The libraries are all having their budgets cut; it's sad.

      I couldn't find your restaurant on-line (only Horse Thief Hollow, *g*) but I also like it when there's art in a restaurant. I don't always like the art but kudos to the restaurateurs for supporting artists. Of course, not all artists like hanging in a restaurant... :-)

  6. I have been reading several of your articles and I thought I will leave a Short Reply: Thanks =)


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