Equally wild and soft, the book art of UK artist Louisa Boyd is an animated discourse on the distress and destruction of analogue media. She breaks and reconstructs books into sculpture, wondering loudly with the rest of us, what’s going on with the world of print? In a book lover’s nightmares, libraries look like the modern car-yards of Detroit, empty and steaming, with ruins of pages and pages flipping open in a breeze. Where are we headed?
Boyd’s book-art asks this question sculpturally. She makes work with water-colored landscapes, folded birds flying from the print. Others are furry, exploratory works of chipped paper. All are mysterious and delicate, haunting and harsh. Her method of chipping away at book pages is jarring. In her series titled Paper Manipulation, thinly sliced guts stream from the heart of a book.
Alternatively, some of her sculptures are actual hand-bound artist books, folded to form intricate circular shapes with finely brushed watercolor details. These painted accents make the shapes look like they are at once aging and crying or, mirroring stained vistas on a postcard — vintage and beautiful.
Boyd’s work is part of a growing creative trend in building sculptures out of books, much of the interest of which, was spawned by memes circulating on Twitter nearly a year ago. Most popular seem to be the sculptures which feature huge mutilated texts (encyclopedias, dictionaries) that are worked on with scalpels to reveal a poem or inanimate shape, like a haunted house or clock-workings. Brain Pickings recently compiled their list of the internet’s most fascinating book sculpture.
But I found Boyd’s work different in that she actually hand-makes the books that she then tears up. Her process of art-making is detailed. She experiments with paper: tearing, cutting, molding. First, she tests it’s fragility and unpredictability. Then using bookbinding techniques to shape the pages, she creates one-of-a-kind artist books, choosing to leave them cover-less, exposing the books and their message to the true vulnerability of analogue anything.
“It requires patience, concentration and practice, but it is calming and rewarding. The hand-bound book stands out in an age where we are used to fast results and machine-made objects,” she said in an interview with Hyperallergic.
Also distinctive is Boyd’s use of earth imagery. Much of her sculptures are marked by symbolic birds flying from the binding and broken landscapes that peek out of curved pages, some shaped like a nautilus shell. According to Boyd, this theme stems from a response to the paradox between rural and urban environments. Her interest was piqued during the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic in the UK, which quarantined large parts of countryside. This edge between country versus city and modern technology versus ancient technologies form the backbone of Boyd’s beautiful work.
“I am not standing against the advances we have made, only wanting to recognize the importance of what has gone before. In such senses (for me) the process of bookbinding has become as important as the sculptures themselves and the concepts behind them,” Boyd says.
Simply, these book sculptures are lovingly animated, delicate examples of bindery and paper-experimentation. Like other book sculptures, her work is fascinatingly fragile, illustrating the fragility of analog literature itself. And uniquely, Boyd’s work illustrates the fragility of nature and the (lost?) art of bookmaking.