Book as Domestic Object: Bread Encyclopedia, Maria Lai

Maria Lai, Bead Encyclopaedia. Artwork detail.
Maria Lai, Bread Encyclopaedia. Artwork detail.

If Lai’s work weren’t safely behind glass, one might expect the aroma of baking to fill the gallery. ‘Bread Encyclopedia’, as the name would suggest, is comprised of a series of books, bound in bread. Each volume is lettered and tied with a string, as if ready to carry. And although the work itself dates back to 2008, the books look freshly made.

Maria Lai, Bead Encyclopaedia. Artwork detail.
Maria Lai, Bread Encyclopaedia. Artwork detail.

The juxtaposition of elements is immediately striking. The combination of the bread (a staple of our daily lives) and the pages of a book (in particular an encyclopedia – with its academic connotations), creates a thoughtful tension, bringing together two habitual, but often distinct parts of our everyday lives. The artist makes me wonder if, as a society, whether we value the act of baking with the same reverence as we give the act of learning.

Maria Lai, Bead Encyclopaedia. Artwork detail.
Maria Lai, Bread Encyclopaedia. Artwork detail.

Lai’s work also evokes the tactility of the making process itself, reminding us that books can be made by hand and perhaps by extension that learning can also be done in the hand and outside the walls of formal institutions.

This link between the book and domesticity can be seen in other works of Lai’s, particularly Embroidered Books which sees the artist stitch whole books into fabric. Again, as with ‘Bread Encyclopedia’, the resulting books are very tactile looking and draw clear attention to their making.