Being Both Deep and Dumb

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Photo of Hepworth sculpture by Phill Lister via Flickr Creative Commons

When asked why she put holes through her sculptures, the artist Barbara Hepworth said, “so that I can see what’s on the other side.” I was told this by a tour guide who proceeded to read many deep and meaningful things into Hepworth’s words – ideas about transformation, about our relationship with art, about the materials Hepworth was working with. I’m not convinced Hepworth meant it in that way though. I suspect it was the deliberately dumb, flippant answer of an artist sick of answering the same question.

Of course, the two approaches aren’t incompatible. All those deep thoughts the tour guide had are totally valid ways of getting something out of Hepworth’s words. Something can be dumb and deep at the same time. As Jake Peralta said, stuff can do two things.

giphy Peralta

Art from books – de-fetishising the medium

Changes in technology change our relationship with the printed word. The printing press spread literacy. Cheap paperbacks allowed every home to be its own small library. E-readers are moving us away from buying printed books, within certain limits.

These changes in technology allow us to be less protective over the material possession that is a book, as content is now widespread, preserved and made available in libraries, bookshops, and electronic form. And whether or not that’s the artist’s intention, it’s one of the things that I ponder when I see pictures of these beautiful sculptures being produced from books in Edinburgh. These works have been appearing anonymously in public spaces for a while now, and thirty delivered to the International Book Festival include a tribute to the great Iain (M.) Banks.

I find it delightful that someone can now use the physical materials of books for something else, safe in the knowledge that the part that’s truly precious, the content of those books, can always be found again. It’s particularly liberating to see something we often fetishise, the paper volumes themselves, treated so playfully.

These are beautiful works, worthy of whatever books have been sacrificed to make them. I can’t wait to see more.