Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Sunday, 23 December 2012

'By creating we think', 'By living we learn'

If there has been one story in 2012 that has brought together all I value and all I believe in, it has been the astonishing tale of Edinburgh's 'book sculptures'. It all started in March 2011, when a librarian in the Scottish Poetry Library discovered an exquisite gift on a table in the library – an old book sculpted into the shape of a tree. It was an anonymous gift, inspired, the tag said, by the quote from Scottish philosopher and visionary Patrick Geddes that is inscribed in stone at the Library's entrance and is the Library's Twitter hashtag, @ByLeavesWeLive. It was a tribute to libraries, books, words, ideas.

Appropriately, in this digital age, the story of the gift spread rapidly – and is well documented here http://thisiscentralstation.com/featured/mysterious-paper-sculptures/ – and a series of anonymous sculptures began to appear mysteriously around Edinburgh, UNESCO City of Literature.

The second was crafted from a copy of Exit Music, the Ian Rankin novel that marked the retirement of his character, Inspector Rebus. The gramophone and coffin are a pun on the title. Inside the gramophone's horn, the words 'towards dark' are visible, perhaps suggesting the movement of the coffin below – or perhaps a comment on the threat of closure of public libraries?

Edinburgh's Filmhouse art cinema received the third sculpture, a lively and intricate depiction of an audience watching a cowboy and indian film where the 'screen' comes alive and the audience joins the fight. It was a tribute to 'all things magic'.

The gifts just kept on appearing. The Scottish Storytelling Centre received a dragon and an egg. The tag read, 'Once upon a time there was a book and in the book was a nest and in the nest was a dragon and in the dragon was a story...' Once more, the book used to fashion the sculpture was a Rankin classic, Knots and Crosses.

At the Edinburgh Book Festival, two more sculptures appeared at once, soon afterwards another was found at the Central Library, and in late September, a second sculpture appeared at the Poetry Library. It wasn't the end, though. The National Museum of Scotland, in the throes of celebrating its millionth visitor since reopening after refurbishment, unearthed a sculpture lurking under a stag. This one was carved out of Arthur Conan Doyle's 1912 novel The Lost World, which was possibly the inspiration for the film Jurassic Park. Another sculpture appeared at the Writers' Museum in Lady Stair's Close. This was a darkly evocative rendition of the Museum in Victorian times, ill lit by lamplight and suggestive of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

It was the last of a magical, inspired, astonishingly ingeniously crafted series of sculptures gifted to the city by an unknown artist. Or was it? A bonus sculpture of two skeletons sociably sitting on a book and listening to records on a turntable was given to Ian Rankin and left in the Edinburgh Bookshop in Bruntsfield, near the author's home.

It's impossible to describe the impact this story has had on me. Like the sculptures themselves, the story is multi-layered and complex, with a strong element of mystery and a great dollop of joy. It pushes all my buttons – it's about words and thoughts and the printed record of these, but it's also about art and skill and beauty. The artist has chosen to remain anonymous, but her mission is absolutely clear – she has given a shout in support of our libraries, our art galleries, our museums, our writers and poets and film makers. Each sculpture has references back to the creator of the book and across to other sculptures and to the city where thinkers and writers have lived and created their own magic.

I caught up with them at a small exhibition at the Scottish Poetry Library in December, where I was unable to resist buying the record of the delightful treasure trail, GIFTED, The Tale of 10 Mysterious Book Sculptures, published by Polygon. I urge you to seek it out, and submerge yourselves in this fascinating story. The author (who remains anonymous, even to the publishers and editor of the book) has supplied beautifully drawn instructions on how to make your own Poetree, and an endpaper for the book that maps all the locations where the sculptures were found.

Sadly, although I took photographs at the exhibition, my camera has packed up. The image here is the front cover of the book (a detail of the original sculpture). Excellent images and more on the tale are to be found through the Central Station link above.

I hope you enjoy this story as much as I have – and may I wish you all a Happy Christmas and great things for 2013.




12 comments:

  1. What a lovely post, Jenny, and a truly remarkable story about the book sculptures. I find it fascinating and am really sorry I missed the exhibition of them at Wigtown Book festival earlier this year. I wonder if there will be more?

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    1. I'm grateful to Kate Blackadder for pointing out they were on show in Edinburgh. More? Wouldn't that be fantastic!

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  2. Brilliant Jenny. I love this story too. I wish I'd seen the sculptures when they were in Wigtown during the book festival, but still intend to catch them.

    Interestingly, a friend of mine took her 85+ year old mother to see them in Wigtown but as they were up a difficult-to-negotiate flight of stairs they nearly didn't make it. Another comment on accessibilty and art?

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    1. Over to you on that one! Actually, they were really difficult to photograph with a small digital camera. You need proper professional equipment and lighting to capture the intricacy of the work. Lovely!

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  3. Beautiful post, Jenny. I absolutely love them too - a perfect combination of art and literature.

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    1. Agreed - couldn't be better! Thanks for your novella, by the way, enjoying reading it sneakily between baking etc for tomorrow!

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  4. Wonderful, wonderful things! Thanks so much, Jenny, for drawing them to my attention.

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  5. You're welcome! Don't eat too many mince pies... Jx

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  6. Absolutely mind-blowing.....thank you so much for sharing on the blog. Will spread the word....keep us all posted on the next one.

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  7. Not sure there will be any more, Linda. But you never know. Happy Christmas!

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  8. A lovely post, Jenny, and one that must find resonance with writers, readers and artists everywhere.

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  9. Thanks Joan. Hope you have a great Hogmanay and that 2013 brings peace and success for you.

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