Books. Old books, new books, treasured tomes, beautifully bound heirlooms.
Those of us with a fixation on old books are a rum lot.
There are some rarities, collectors items that the aesthetes, the connoisseurs, snap up, and they are worth a lot of money and their possessor may well acquire great status.
And then there are the rooters. The riflers, the rummagers, who hunt by the smell of an old book or the chance sighting of an inscription on a flyleaf. We do not seek value; we gobble up a book’s lost lifetimes, and the little books sit on or shelves whilst we gaze at them and hug their past lives to ourselves.
And it is for those people that an artist has taken an extraordinary turn.
Maria Rivans is a Brighton based collage artist. And a while back, the National Trust invited her, in partnership with Unravelled Arts, to create something at the Vyne; the Hampshire house which figured in the lives of so many famous folks – Jane Austen used to visit regularly, and the house was built for Henry VIII’s Lord Chamberlain, Lord Sandys.
Rivans’ collages are fantastical. But they cannot prepare one for what she has created with a set of carefully chosen old books in the fustian affability of the Vyne’s library.
She allows the story to walk out of them. Literally: tiny pop-up figures walk back and forth, boats float on page-waves, cows graze next to giant mushrooms. And all over a huge pile of books.
It is a must-visit if you are nearby before it closes in December. I look at it and think: why didn’t I think of this? Why isn’t everyone doing it? We should be taking books that mean a lot to us and drawing them out in 3D, teasing the stories and entwining them with our own to express the very bookness of these books.
“Armed with a scalpel,” she tells us, “I built a micro environment of careful sourced vintage books, specifically collected to reflect the collection displayed on the library shelves. Importantly the books had to contain relevant material for me to cut and collage, including fauna, the hunt, and dandies on a Grand Tour, enabling me to bring the stories of The Vyne to life.
She adds: “This mini adventure tells a narrative in true pop-up style, flowing across the table, like the river of words, like the river surrounding the Vyne, like the stories the novelists wrote that were inspired by The Vyne.”
In my book, this woman is a genius.
But some might blanche at this way of treating our beloved tomes.