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.
British conceptual artist John Latham (1921-2006) is an intriguing artist who frequently worked with books, producing provocative sculptural artworks, works that are attractive from a distance, but uncomfortable and brutal up close.
On canvas and in sculptural form Latham layers materials; wires, mesh, plaster, paint all wrestle on canvas – into this mix are thrown books. Latham’s books are hacked at, carved up, coloured (reds, yellows, brown/black) and splayed open, held by the wires which curl round them like tendrills. These rounded, chopped up, tinged pieces of book are meat-like.
Michele Ciacciofera’s installation Janus Code (2016-17) is a collection of artefacts that resembles a dreamlike museum exhibit. Apart from the occasional concrete items (a butterfly, seeds, a stone), many are handmade, created with unexpected materials to resemble familiar-looking objects and displayed like anthropological specimens.
The motif of the book reoccurs again and again; we see book-like sculptures wrapped in wool, page-like panels of a dyptich and open volumes containing seemingly-symbolic relics.
A structure floats; the majestic hull of some dream ship. It’s huge, but nearing on the intangible. This is not quite the ghost-like art of Do-ho Suh’s, but evokes a similar feeling; the concrete-turned-transparent. This fragile tableaux is a combination of simple elements brought together to create a striking work.
Weighing this structure down are stones, tied with red strings. At the edges are piles of books (sealed, made untouchable, waterproofed with wax), also with red strings. Were they anchors too?
‘Daily Miracles’ was commissioned by Leeds College of Art as part of its Library Interventions series and is an artwork designed to bridge the college’s two distinct libraries. The work comprises two sets of six books (one set for each library) which together tell a simple story about the place, incorporating details about the surrounding books and features of the library itself. The books are spread across the collection (prompting the viewer to make a journey through the space) and include references to real details draw their attention to where they are – both in terms of their physical location and also within the larger institution of the library.
“Both libraries at Leeds College have a distinct flavour, so I was keen to make an artwork that linked the two. By weaving in real details about both locations, such as noises, sights and goings on, the work hopefully breaks a visitor’s routine and makes them stop to question where they are and what they are doing. I also hope that the story itself is of interest and is engaging enough to prompt the viewer to explore the collection book by book.”
Specifications: Six A5 pamphlets. Exterior: glossy, full-colour. Interior: black text on white paper. Edition of ten, signed and numbered.