Making something beautiful with a book

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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 ย 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. ย 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.

You?

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40 thoughts on “Making something beautiful with a book

  1. Marshall McLuhan would love it! The medium really is the message!

    As long as the content is preserved somewhere, I don’t think that what you do to the physical container matters too much, unless of course it’s a historical object in it’s own right by reason of age or uniqueness.

    And of course, as long as the act of destruction isn’t also an act of oppression….

    1. Very good point, Jan. I love it when you appear front of house. People don’t realise the work you do day in, day out to sub these posts!

      Marshall McLuhan. Good call!

      1. Slightly ironic that you mention my subbing – I’ve just noticed that my comment has a rogue apostrophe…

  2. I love these book creations, exciting to feel the imagination, the hand, the story, transforms into a visual experience telling another story after the reader has absorbed the wrtten – like the oral story teller’s of old, creating for new audiences – borrowing from others the stories live on – something of beauty instead of mould

    1. What a lovely way to put it, Alberta! I love them too. I’m not sure boks were taken apart to make these sculptures; more manipulated and decorated. I, like you, love what the artist has done.

    1. I don’t think the books were cut up, Roger, just manipulated and added to. Frequenting mad independent secondhand bookshops like I do, most of my books only cost a couple of pounds at most. I would love to use a little copy of Emmerson’s essaye and try this with them. We have just begun the Summer hols: I wonder if I could fit this in?

  3. I am sure that the books used would not have been of any great value – you can pick up books like that at any car-boot sale. However, what Maria Rivans has done is bring them to life and is very imaginative.
    Lately the National Trust have been inviting artists to create unusual installations within many of their properties which I welcome.

    1. I was talking to someone from Artswork today, one of the organisations which disseminates the work of the Arts Council to children across the South East of England. It seems their definition of the arts is broader than it has been in the past and has opened to include heritage. The two are so very intertwined – what a fabulous development to see the National Trust working with arts organisations!

  4. Lilliputian and lovely! It surely must take a very steady hand and the patience of Job to create these.

    There are so many books that, once read, have been banished to some dark corner and forgotten. Creating something new and beautiful from the likes of those and thereby possibly inviting someone–a child ?–to delve further into the stories . . . priceless!

  5. A genius, indeed, for she is bringing books alive in a most creative way.
    I have my father’s old books, which are on my shelves. There are some classics, however, that are mostly dust collectors, placed so high up that only the dust reads them. They were damaged by water many moons ago. I keep them, well, just because. I would love to see Treasure Island or the Three Musketeers come alive in this way. How exciting this post is.

    1. Isn’t it, Tandy? This installation tells more than the story of the books – it tells the story of The Vyne, wich is incredibly dramatic. Remember -it’s where Tolkein’s ring – the one thought to have inspired his trilogy- is exhibited!

      1. I’m all for re-purposing and saving things from the landfills. May people are turning to e-readers, and not wanting to buy and store books. I’ve always loved books, and do not want to give mine up. The classics will always be valuable in book form is my guess. More so as they become relatively rare. I’m worried about libraries.

  6. While I could never treat a beloved book that way . . . the images she created are stunning.

    But I would hate to be responsible for dusting them off without damaging them. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. It would seem that the books have been treated with due reverence – they will all revert happily. Thus the idea of bringing them to life in this way does seem a brilliant idea. I hope a lot of kids get to see the exhibition and are duly inspired.

  8. Whatever pulls the reader into the story is a plus. But, as others mentioned here, I would not want to sacrifice the book itself for this art.

    I am one who was reluctant to join the Nook/Kindle generation because I loved the feel of a book in my hands. While I do have a couple of books on an e-reader, I do love those in my library.

  9. I really love art made from books, Kate. I once saw an installation by a Japanese artist who cut books such that the pages looked like landscapes when open. It was really lovely, and completely reverent to the book.

  10. Very interesting. Hopefully no books were hurt to make the display ๐Ÿ˜‰ Makes me think of the disclaimer you see in tv shows and movies that no animals were hurt in the making of the film. The only one that looks like it may have been damaged was the one with the simulated blood, but then again, maybe it is just red paper cut to shape.

    Thanks for sharing.

  11. I think the point for me is that the artist loves the books. She surely loves each volume enough to create an entirely fresh way to enjoy it. I have hundreds of old books. They’ve come to me through decades of collecting, and then gifting as I became “the one” who would appreciate the volumes when family passed or friends downsized. I treasure them, but I could never really “enjoy” most of them. There are just too many. Alas, I haven’t a jot of artistic talent, or I’d be tempted to try my hand. I love the blending of creatives here…the authors and the artist.

    1. I have sim. problem having hundreds handed down old old book – impossibly small print – flood damaged and well loved but I will never read them and there is no-one to hand on – librarys dont want them – sigh – what to do – not artistic like this:)

      1. I simply admire my old books from time to time. My son refers to them as “mom’s trophies”–and I don’t think he means it kindly! ๐Ÿ™‚ Perhaps he’s afraid he’ll have to deal with them one day. hahaha!

  12. I’d rather see forgotten, discarded books brought to life in this imaginative way as sculptures than left unloved in a dark storage room or thrown on the garbage pile as eletronica takes over. Fascinating post, Kate.

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