Cambridge's Central Library has a café on the second floor with windows that overlook the shoppers milling about the mall of the Grand Arcade. And it was here that I spotted this work of art.
Books fly across three panels like birds, embedded in a white sky of thickly impastoed paint. Others swim in a deep blue mass of compacted pages and spines.
It's half-way between a 3-D sculpture and a 2-D painting: it's a kind of book relief.
The books are real books. They have been painted, cut, glued, ripped, propped, defaced, rammed and generally 'made strange'. Thick cracked paint drips onto them.
We're not used to seeing books as 'mere' objects: paper and cardboard pulp. Most of us may quail at throwing a book in the bin or using a book to light a fire -- even if it's a book we hate.
But here, books are reduced to material objects.
Or are they revealed as what they in fact are? Blocks of rectangular paper with black lines of print, bound together by linen or cardboard?
They remind me of my favourite novel, Italo Calvino's postmodern If on a Winter's Night a Traveller (1979; original Italian title: Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore).
In Chapter 7, one of the characters (Irnerio who never reads books) explains that he makes sculptures out of books:
Faccio delle cose coi libri. Degli oggetti. Sí, delle opere: statue, quadri, come li vuoi chiamare. Ho fatto anche un'esposizione. Fisso i libri con delle resine, e restano lí. Chiusi, o aperti, oppure anche gli do delle forme, li scolpisco, gli apro dentro dei buchi. È una bella materia il libro, per lavorarci, ci si può fare tante cose.
Here's my translation:
I make things with books. Objects. Yes, works: statues, pictures, whatever you want to call them. I've even had an exhibition. I fix the books with resin, and they stay there. Closed, or open, or I may even give them shapes, I carve them, I open up holes in them. It's a beautiful material, the book, to work with, one can do so many things with it.
Does your local library contain any art? Have a look. You might be surprised -- I was!
What and who: The plaque next to the work informs us that this is Flight of Imagination, created "by young Cambridgeshire artist Aaron Lewis especially for Cambridge library cafe. It was produced using only salvaged books."
(I don't know what a salvaged book is. Is this sentence supposed to make us feel better? As in: no books were harmed in the making of this art.)
Where: Central Library, Grand Arcade, Cambridge.
Justin Rowe's magical book sculptures