By Noa Paden
Altered books is an art form that refers to the practice of taking an already existing book, rather than making one by hand, and in some way destroying or adding to it to create a new piece of art. There are many forms of this such as black out poetry, collages, sculptures, and other things. Sculptures in specific can be created by folding, cutting, gluing, sewing, or otherwise changing the physical structure and properties of the book.
It is unclear when book sculpture as an art form first appeared, but it seems to have only become a widely known art form within recent years and it continues to spread rapidly.
The above picture shows piece by Jodi Harvey-Brown is an illustration of a scene from the popular book Harry Potter, made from the book the scene takes place in. This is an example of turning literal pages into sculpture, based on the text it came from. It's a clear cut message with very little that needs to be interpreted or translated to understand what's going on.
In contrast, Emma Taylor makes pieces that are less relevant to the books she makes the pieces from, ignoring the original text completely and just using the book as a medium to get her art across. She says that the ending of a book is tragic, and appreciates them as objects as much as she appreciates the stories inside of them.
Her works are simple in concept, such as the trees depicted above, but have a very detailed and precise execution. Her pieces often showcase nature, turning back time on the paper the books were originally made from.
Another artist of note is an anonymous paper crafter who leaves sculptures around Edinburough for people to simply find at random. These sculptures often going undiscovered for quite a long time before they get noticed and taken somewhere safe. The artist says that some might never be found and others might get immediately thrown away due to the locations the art is left in—but has no problem with this fact and continues to make work and leaving it to be found in its own time.
This artist plays with the sculptures staying inside the book as well as making free-standing sculptures that have broken away from the structure of the book they were created from.
There are no rules to how these sculptures are made or designed, though some people adhere to their own code of how these works of art should be made. Ultimately, it's a fairly new art form that's still growing and being explored.
Listen to what these artists and art historian have to say about altered books and how they're rediscovering books as art:
Christine Antaya, an art historian based in London featured in this video, says that these alterations are not the death of books, but rather a transition. While some people still get angry at the idea of destroying existing books for to make new art, hopefully it will not be seen in such a negative light in the future.