Thursday, 5 February 2009

The Anathema of Altered Books and Collage

I’ve just come back from visiting Devonport on Auckland’s North Shore, to check out the second-hand bookshops that are there.

I found some interesting, and some lovely books at the bookstore. There was an illustrated guide to New Zealand Wildflowers, with beautiful watercolour paintings; there were similar books on insects, birds and marine life; a really cool book on Forensic Science with accompanying autopsy photos (I want!); a book on Megalithic culture in Britain; another on NASA pictures of Earth. The oldest book I found was printed in 1891 by the South Canterbury Cattle Breeders Association, and was a Herd List, with the names of all current breeding bulls and cows.

I was looking for an old book suitable to use for mixed media collage, altered books and art quilting. Having just finished reading the latest issue of Quilting Arts, and Cloth Paper Scissors, I’d been inspired by some of the illustrations featuring printed words and images from old books. The only problem is, I was also slightly disturbed by those same images, and anything that involved ripped up pieces of paper that appeared to have come from a book.

What I realised as I crawled around on the floor, scanning through the images in these books, is that to deliberately damage, rip, tear or wound one of these books would be a complete anathema, a bête noir – a black beast. That last thought is pretty ironic, as I consider my depression to take the form of a black beast.

I could no more deliberately injure a book, than I could injure my child. Yes, I tend to break the spine of books I’m reading, but I could not write or draw in them, rip or tear them, not even to create something that may later be called art.

One of my first jobs was working in a library, repairing books. Nearly 40 years later, I will still repair a damaged book before returning it to the library. I will neatly stack and order books on shelves, adjusting dustcovers so they sit properly.

So, I won’t be making any altered books, or collage/art quilts involving pages ripped from books. If I can find material that’s been scanned from a book, and printed off, maybe I can use that.

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