I have a wallet created from a discarded book. It was a gift given to me by a friend who purchased it from a local shop that no longer sells these wallets; however, they’re making belt buckles from books, which, according to shop owner Josh Quinn, sell much better.
This idea of the book as an object for purposes other than reading — notably, art — is the topic of Bookwork: Medium to Object to Concept to Art by Garrett Stewart, forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press. The descriptions I’ve read all start with the book’s first line and, no wonder. It’s intriguing:
“There they rest, inert, impertinent, in gallery space—those book forms either imitated or mutilated, replicas of reading matter or its vestiges. Strange, after its long and robust career, for the book to take early retirement in a museum, not as rare manuscript but as functionless sculpture. Readymade or constructed, such book shapes are canceled as text when deposited as gallery objects, shut off from their normal reading when not, in some yet more drastic way, dismembered or reassembled.”
The thought of a dismembered book is a big “ouch” for me; however, not so much when I think of a book that was discarded by a library, defiled with the institution’s categorizing mark-ups, or found at a garage sale or junk shop with torn-out or crayoned pages, unwanted by a collector or reader and destined for the shredder. Such likely was the fate of the book that became my wallet (from what I’ve read online). In its compartments, I save money for my book shopping trips — and what a nice second life this is for the once-upon-a-time book, now participating in the collection of other books.
The University of Chicago Press writes: “Bookwork surveys and illustrates a stunning variety of appropriated and fabricated books alike, ranging from hacksawed discards to the giant lead folios of Anselm Kiefer.” If my wallet is a hacksawed discard, then I needed to find out what was meant by a lead folio of Kiefer — I wasn’t familiar with his work — and found this Kiefer sculpture, “Book with Wings,” from the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth:
I haven’t had the chance to look inside Bookwork, so I don’t know if the writing is academic, for the everyday reader or somewhere in between. I’m sharing it because its subject grabbed my curiosity and has taken me down some interesting paths, from Anselm Kiefer to a retired professor of art/photography at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, who wrote a blog post about photographers who photograph books.
Update: Links broken for “Book with Wings,” due to a change in the URL, were fixed 4.25.12.