Books are a gateway to perspectives, they can introduce us to worlds and thoughts. Furthermore, they can encourage our imagination, and help us discover new territories or even new words. They propel empathy and introduce us to multiple narratives. Whether writing or reading about culture, science, life stories, civilisations, philosophy or emotions, writing connects us throughout our history as well as in our present.
In these challenging times, reading may help get us through the day and steer our mind either onto clouds of fiction or give way to thoughts on how we can better our world.
It is a time to reflect on what books mean to us and what effect they have had throughout history.
Art like writing makes us think. Here are some amazing artists and organisations who have combined art and books to drive forward narratives, connect the world, bring about discussion and do good through the power of books and art.
Yinka Shonibare CBE
The British Library is an installation and art project by artist Yinka Shonibare. It has been acquired by Tate Modern. The Library embraces diversity in Britain and is dedicated to showcase the contribution immigration has made to the culture of the country. Thousands of books are covered with Dutch wax printed cotton textile, a textile the artist regularly uses in his art and which references the notions of colonialism and national identity. On the spine of those books names of people who had immigrated to Britain can be read. Access to the list of names can be seen online: https://thebritishlibraryinstallation.com/names/ .
You can also submit to the platform your own story on immigration via this link: https://thebritishlibraryinstallation.com/your-stories/
To have a transparent discussion about immigration, the artist has also included in the Library, books with names of figures who have opposed immigration at various times. Other books are left unmarked indicating that the story of immigration is yet to be completed.
This is a good time to engage online via the links above and read people's stories, as well as the research from the different waves of immigration in Britain from the 1500s. We are looking forward to revisit this installation once the museum re-opens. #LookingBackToLookForward
This work was originally commissioned by HOUSE 2014 and Brighton Festival and shown at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery in 2014. It was also shown at Museu Afro Brasil, São Paulo and Turner Contemporary, Margate in 2016, and part of the Diaspora Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2017.
The British Library by Yinka Shonibare CBE
Edmund de Waal OBE
Artist and writer Edmund de Waal has created A Library of Exile. It is a moving library which has been to Dresden and Venice and is currently set in London at the British Museum. The Library encourages us to engage and read books by authors who have experienced exile from across the world. Most books are translations, so that we can look into the idea of language as migration but there are also many books in dozens of languages.
Image of Library of Exile repost from @edmunddewaal
"The walls of the library are painted with liquid porcelain over sheets of gold and inscribed with the names of the lost libraries of the world, from the ancient Library of Alexandria to the Mosul University Library in Iraq. The books all contain an ‘ex libris’ label for visitors to write their name in a book that matters to them." http://libraryofexile.infoteca.it/start
London is the last stop for the Library of Exile, once the exhibition closes, all the books will be donated to the library of the University of Mosul with the help of Book Aid International.
Unfortunately the Library and the British Museum are currently closed due the pandemic COVIC-19 and the event hosted by @englishpen_ with Kayo Chingonyi, @selmadabbagh and Alia trabuccozerán on the literature of migration has been postponed until better and safer days.
At Art Breath, we are #LookingBackToLookForward and can't wait to visit this brilliant project. It's important to highlight it and spread the word about these books, furthermore, as Edmund de Waal put it in his post, you can check the library online for book suggestions, support and buy the authors books.
Reading is a great way to get through these challenging times, as we all engage in social distancing.
TheParthenon Of Books by Marta Minujin is a parthenon of "forbidden books", a symbol against oppression and censorship and a stand against the persecution of authors. This was shown at Documenta 14 in Kassel, Germany, @documentakassel and installed on Friedrichsplatz, where some two thousand books had been burned during WWII.
It is a replica of the temple on the Acropolis in Athens, but is made up of books that had been previously banned. To set this up, the Argentine artist Marta Minujín and the documenta 14 team collected and received book donations from all over the world.
This book installation, is also an echo of the artist's work from 1983 in Argentina titled El Partenón de libros. After the collapse of the civilian-military dictatorship in Argentina, the artist showcased the artwork with the books that had been banned under the ruling junta. After the exhibition, the audience could take the books with them home.
Though this installation is now down, during these challenging times, as we all practice social distancing, it is a good time to think about what books mean to us and what effect have they had throughout history.
Some images of The Parthenon of Books in 2017 when we visited Documenta 14:
This image was taken at the beginning of Documenta 14, the temple kept on being filled with books throughout Documenta.
The Future Library
The Future Library project is a 100 year public art work and literary project made for the future. Conceived by artist Katie Paterson and set just outside Oslo, it started in 2014 and will run until 2114. It's aim is to receive original written work from an author every year between the years 2014 and 2114. The works will be held in a trust and unpublished until 2114, only for the eyes and ears of the unknown readers from the future. Paper for the series of books will be supplied by the forest outside Oslo which is currently growing spruce trees for the project. You can visit the forest and watch the trees grow, as well as participate in the Special "handover" Ceremony that takes place every year with each manuscript. So far, writers have included Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell, Sjón, Elif Shafak, Han Kang and Karl Ove Knausgård.
Though travel is restricted due to COVIC-19, you can travel online at the Future Library Project and read some interviews between the authors and Katie Paterson.
Artist Ian Whittlesea's work divulges into words, and the power texts have to alter the viewer's physical and psychic state. The artist works vary from paintings to printed books, ephemeral posters and transient projections, all whilst exploring the exchanges there could be between language and image on a page or in the world.
"On Colour... draws on the theories of colour harmony that Johannes Itten taught at the Bauhaus, and on the literature of Mazdaznan, Rosicrucianism and Theosophy. It describes how one can, potentially, produce the white cloud of invisibility and documents the author's own attempts to manifest the cloud.
These manifestations have a complex group of antecedents that include Lawrence Weiner's early spray-painted works, John Latham's One Second Drawings, Robert Irwin's luminous disc paintings of the 1960s and representations of the ineffable made by spiritualists and occultists.
Text, images, design by Ian Whittlesea, published by Arnaud Desjardin / The Everyday Press, printed by Aldgate Press"
The Everyday Press, London, Written and illustrated by Ian Whittlesea
Becoming Invisible is a guide and visual primer that draws on the literature of Rosicrucianism, theosophy and esoteric yoga. It describes how, through visualisation and breathing exercises, the reader will be able to split light into its constituent parts and then recombine the seven colours of the spectrum to form a glowing white cloud that envelops its creator. Thus, potentially, anyone can achieve the goal of becoming invisible."
Though exhibitions are currently closed due to COVIC-19, you can engage with the artist's work through his website and instagram page @ianwhittlesea
The Sketchbook Project at Brooklyn Art Library
The Sketchbook Project is filled with thousands of sketchbooks created by artists from around the world.
"Participants of the project order blank sketchbooks, choose a theme, fill them up and connect their books online with search terms, an artist bio and other unique content. Every single sketchbook that is sent back to us is cataloged and placed on our shelves for visitors to view."
Set in The Brooklyn Art Library, the project thus becomes part of a reading room where one can enjoy browsing through the artworks. Located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY, the project and library showcases its diverse and creative community and encourages interaction between artists and the readers.
Currently due to COVIC-19, travel and visits are not possible. However, you may want to join there 28 day challenge:
"Join our NEW 28 day challenge and get an automatic email EVERY day for 28 days with a creative prompt. In order to make this accessible to everyone, we are making this a 'Pay What You Wish' model! You can sign up for free, or help to support Brooklyn Art Library during these tough times and make a donation! Anything is appreciated. Please allow 24 hours for the first email to be sent."