Art: The other life of books
Sculpted, folded and drilled—rediscover the tactile book in these inventive artworks
Banoo Batliboi will make you see paper in astonishing ways. The book sculptor who works out of her home in Kemps Corner, Mumbai, creates alternative topographies from old atlases and neckpieces out of metallic paper.
She is part of a small group of practitioners of this art form—call it “bookworks” or “paper sculpture”—which Chronicle Books showcases in Art Made From Books: Altered, Sculpted, Carved, Transformed. Edited by Laura Heyenga, this gorgeous anthology (which we wrote about soon after it came out last year) contains works by New York-based artist Doug Beube and Atlanta-based artist Brian Dettmer, who combine photography and mixed media in their book installations, British artist Jennifer Collier who stitches pages from vintage books to fashion clothes, shoes and objets d’art, and Mexican artist Arián Dylan, who makes chess sets out of old book paper.
Batliboi’s Diminishing Wedges is the result of numerous precise folds on a leather-bound book with gold embossing on acid-neutral paper. It opens out, butterfly-like, to a symmetrical panorama wherein the text of the book becomes the texture of the artwork.
Not all the 15 artists in the show alter the physical structure of a book. Sessions in Paradise by New Delhi-based artist Smriti Choudhary is a thin collection of black and white illustrations inspired by the timeless proximity between wild animals and their natural surroundings. HerStories: Mother’s Voices Of Resilience And Hope are a set of two books by Radhika Hettiarachchi and Shanika Perera, which emerged from The HerStories Project, an online community of women writers which is compiling an archive of oral histories of mothers across geographical and ethnic divides.
Sathyanand Mohan’s Chronicle is a composite of 25 framed notebooks with scribbles by a doctor and member of the Indian National Congress from the early 1940s. American artist Zach Stensen revisits his childhood exploration of basic astronomy in Elementary Astronomy, a charming illustrated book that you wish was in bookstores to buy.
For purist bibliophiles there will be moments of outrage over books painted and brushed over, pages gouged and binds stretched. Although the show’s apparent purpose is not exactly to celebrate the sanctity of books—and really, that tendency has become too tediously nostalgic these days—walking through it, reading and touching some of the works is close to the experience of actually handling books. Being far away from the text-visual rubric of a conventional book, these works challenge you to hold and experience a book anew. Like in the works of Batliboi, in the Vibrations And Silence series by New Delhi-based photographer, writer and artist Samit Das and Lanka Janthawa by Sri Lankan artist Kingsley Gunatilake, books are dismembered.
Das uses aural imagery and city metaphors, drilling, cutting and burning pages of books made with thick handmade paper. Gunatilake embodies bullets in the pages of a book. The title of his work translates to “the people of Sri Lanka”, and it is an elegy about the country’s history of ethnic violence. Political statements about a violent, authoritarian state are also potent in Diplomatic History by Chinese artist Deng Yifu.
So you don’t just read in Reading Room. You encounter one of the most intimate and common objects of human history in a whole new way, making its debated relevance today all the more compelling.
Reading Room is on till 13 September, 11am-6pm (Sundays closed), at Tarq art gallery, F35/36, Dhanraj Mahal, Apollo Bunder, Colaba, Mumbai. The works range in price from Rs.1,600 to Rs.4 lakh.
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