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Book as Reference: The Immaterial Legacy at MACBA

The Immaterial Legacy - Exhibition Detail. Image © Chris Gibson, 2014.
The Immaterial Legacy – Exhibition Detail. Image © Chris Gibson, 2014.

‘The Immaterial Legacy’ was an eclectic exhibition held at MACBA, Barcelona between May 2014 to June 2015 which presented artworks from the museum’s collection alongside cultural artefacts from the period (such as music, film, advertising) in order to provide a historical context for the art.

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Book as Element: Various Book Works, Michelle Stuart

Michelle Stuart, various works. Image credit: Chris Gibson, 2018
Michelle Stuart, various works. Image credit: Chris Gibson, 2018

Stuart’s beautiful sculptures look as if they have been excavated from the ground. The folded concrete from some building site, the stacked dusty-brown layers from a desert floor.

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Book as Communicator: Life in the Folds, Carlos Amorales

‘Life in the Folds’ is an installation that seems to be filled with objects from an alien culture. Comprised of video, sculptural objects, works on paper and a publication, the common thread that links these pieces are strange glyphs, which appear to be a form of language.

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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.

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Book as Medium: E.I. CTY1, Anthony Cairns

Anthony Cairns EI CTY1 2018 - Exhibition
Anthony Cairns, ‘EI CTY1’, 2018 – Exhibition View. Documentation © Chris Gibson, 2018.

From a distance Anthony Cairns’ photographs look like small paper negatives suspended between thick panes of glass. The black and white images feature glimpses of cityscapes; fluorescent lights, architectural lines, empty urban spaces. These anonymous-looking places could be backwaters of any major city. The washed-out tones give a hazy feel, as if we are experiencing the city through a dream and image by image we build a picture of a sprawling place.

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Book as Post-Consumer Product: Studio (Supermarket), Hassan Sharif

The scene is like some strange mini-market stacked with objects, that through blurred vision at least, could resemble familiar, everyday goods. Shelves are filled with wrapped packages, bundled objects, rolls tied with strings. Among them are mini footballs, old containers, parts of machinery and even a book.

Hassan Sharif, Studio (Supermarket). Image: © Chris Gibson, 2017

Sharif’s works are described as sculptures and it’s clear that thought has gone into each and every object of display, whether the raw materials (the original found objects and post-consumer waste) have been altered significantly or not. It’s no coincidence that we think of a supermarket when we look at the work.

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Book as Source: All Images From a Book…, Ciprian Muresan

The Romanian artist Ciprian Muresan uses books as a resource, sketching a copy of every image in a particular book on to one sheet of paper. His source material comprises seemingly image-laden artists monographs or studies.

Ciprian Muresan – All Images From a Book… series. Image © Chris Gibson, 2017
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Book as Habitat: Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges, Carol Bove

A couple of years back I came across this beautiful artwork by Brooklyn-based artist Carol Bove as part of an exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute. Bove’s artwork was presented alongside that of Italian architect/sculptor Carlo Scarpa (who’s garden was home to Lee Mingwei’s artwork When Beauty Visits).

Carol Bove - Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges
Carol Bove, ‘Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges’. Image © Chris Gibson, 2017
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Book as Remembrance: Various Book Paintings, Liu Ye

Liu Ye’s small, flat photo-realistic paintings are of books collected by the artists’ parents during China’s Cultural Revolution (1966-76). The books are often theory, text-books or works of literature – some of which (such as Nabokov’s Lolita) have political connotations.

Liu Ye - Book Paintings
Liu Ye – ‘Book Painting No. 10 Piet Mondrian Rot Gelb Blau Insel Taschenbuch 1995’, 2015. Image © Chris Gibson, 2017

Although the images are very cleanly painted, some of the books are displayed upside down and often with a dark edge running along the top. On first glance this gives the impression that the canvasses were painted from badly developed photographs or slides, however in some images, such as ‘Book Painting No. 1’ (below), we can see that the line is intentional as pages stray over it. This gives the suggestion that we are looking at books neatly placed on the edge of a table. And the fact that the book is upside down to us, could suggest that we are looking at the object from above that table where it is positioned.

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Book as Biography: The British Library, Yinka Shonibare

The British Library, installation view, Tate Modern. Artwork by Yinka Shonibare. Photo © Chris Gibson, 2019

The British Library is a large and colourful artwork by Yinka Shonibare which comprises a huge collection of specially bound reclaimed books, covered in vibrant Dutchwax fabric and embossed in gold with the names of notable British figures who were born outside the UK or have non-British ancestry.

The volume of books and the number of well-known names is surprising, drawing our attention to the rich and expansive impact migrants have had on British daily life and culture, a debt that sometimes seems overlooked to me.

The British Library, installation view, Tate Modern. Artwork by Yinka Shonibare. Photo © Chris Gibson, 2019
The British Library, installation view, Tate Modern. Artwork by Yinka Shonibare. Photo © Chris Gibson, 2019
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