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Open Animation by Pierce Beisel

Sculptors tear into books creating volumes
of art in Rutherford Library

The hint of violence in the title of this exhibition is apt. Books play an inextricable part in society all over the world. The have the power to direct movements, ignite passions, create controversy and lead change.  Given that books are innately imbued with this sort of collective power, it is not surprising that an art exhibit of sculpture made from repurposed books would evoke strong emotions.

The Well - by Cayley Lux and Aoede Ellenbogen. Mixed media sculpture.

The Well – by Cayley Lux and Aoede Ellenbogen

This past summer librarian Michael May approached Art & Design instructor Royden Mills with a challenge for his sculpture students.  What could 20 artists do with an astounding donation of up to 100,000 books, discarded from libraries across Western Canada?

Roy took the challenge to his students who put their hearts into the exhibition which is showing now in the Rutherford Library Galleria.

“The U of A Sculpture students in my class were asked to think about knowledge and the nature of the power it wields.  They were particularly told to consider how the books they found that once earned so much respect and a particular place on the shelves of important libraries, now could not defend the space that they take up on library shelves across western Canada.  I asked them to think about the physical metaphor available to them in light of this.  By transforming these books before they went to the recycle bin, we wondered, could they actually create something that now might earn the space that they require in the world in a new way?  Could the books now be a different kind of vehicle that linked their long life before with a potential for change that is just as potent? Are there some connections that only physical visual poetry could generate?  What makes Physical Presence, and what kind of potential for change does such a monument create?  The results far exceeded what I thought possible of these students.  They all were working on other assignments and lessons in material study during this course.  Perhaps you will agree they did extremely well.

There are 20 artists in this exhibition and a couple of them have done two different works for the Exhibition.  The exhibition includes 300, 400, and 500 level undergraduate students from my classes, one graduate student and three recent B.F.A. graduates who were my former students who are now fairing very well in the greater art world.”

Beyond the beauty the artists had fashioned out of these books, one of the first things I noticed when I went to view the exhibit was that someone had scribbled the words “disgusting vandalism” on a number of the name placards. Without full context, the destruction of these books had obviously evoked discomfort in exhibit goers. The interesting thing is that this discomfort was not only felt by the viewers.  As the artists spoke about their work, a number of them expressed how hard it was for them to even begin the process given that it entailed the destruction of books. For some of them the process sounded almost reverential, almost as if the books themselves carried a spirit of their own. When you think of books as carrying a history, being something to be cherished and protected, they do in a way, each have an embedded spirit, created from our reverence of them.

It was clear that none of these sculptures were carried out with a wonton spirit.  Each sculpture visually spoke to me about history, craftsmanship, and the love of the written word.

~ TJ

The Book as Weapon of Change is showing from December 3 – January 5 in Rutherford Galleria, University of Alberta

For more information about the University of Alberta’s Department of Art & Design program and how you could study sculpture: www.artdesign.ualberta.ca

3 replies to this post
  1. Thanks to Michael May, John McGie, Carly Greene and Terah for making this possible. Of course thanks to students who made the work and the recent BFA graduates, Danielle Jenson, Carly Greene, and Jes McCoy who lent energy towards making work for the exhibition. I think it will inspire much more visual dialogue on what makes something resonant with the spirit of others.

    Roy Mills

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