Thursday, 26 September 2013

Story Telling

“I wonder what’s in a book while it’s closed.(...) something must be happening, because as soon as I open it, there’s a whole story (...) and all kinds of adventures and deeds...” says Bastian, the young boy in Michael Ende’s fantastic book The Never-ending Story.

A very similar sort of feeling may rise within us when we look at Su Blackwell’s exquisite book-sculptures. And, curiously enough, her kind of art expression and the way it all started sound very much like a good fairy tale. “Once upon a time” this young artist went off on a journey to a faraway dream-like country, Thailand, where she discovered a dusty old bookstore which would work magic inside her. A brilliant idea struck her mind then and changed her life ever after.

Su Blackwell, a British artist from Sheffield with a taste for writing stories and art, graduated in Textiles at Bradford College and proceeded for an MA in Textiles at the Royal College of Art in London. She used the second-hand copy of The Quiet American she found in that quaint Thai bookshop and cut paper moths with a craft-knife from its pages to create her first book sculpture, inspired by the Chinese legend about souls who rematerialize in the shape of moths.

For anyone who loves books, it may be quite shocking to come to terms with the idea that Blackwell’s work implies the destruction of books. However, Blackwell – herself a book-lover – explains that “many of the books I use would go into landfill anyway”. In fact, she spends a considerable time on the stages prior to producing her art pieces, since she first carefully looks for the book she is going to use, reads the story, and then works out her own remaking of the story and crafts the sketches.

The characters she creates actually seem to be falling into the books or emerging from their open pages, in her delicate and whimsical sculptures in which she deliberately takes advantage of the humble and ephemeral qualities of paper to represent feelings of wonder and melancholy. Su Blackwell’s final products result in tranquil and unique landscapes, full of detail which, according to the artist, “(the detail) is what brings it all together, the magic element”.

And she explains her preference to work with paper rather than with textiles, as “paper has been used for communication since its invention, either between humans or in an attempt to communicate with the spirit world”. Moreover, she says she uses “this delicate, accessible medium and use(s) irreversible, destructive processes to reflect on the precariousness of the world we inhabit and the fragility of our life, dreams and ambitions”.

Quite adequately and very much in the same way as Bastian, the young boy in The Never-ending Story was trapped in the webs of Ende’s fantasy, Su Blackwell’s extremely beautiful book sculptures, in their exquisite detail, fragile setting, subtle choice of colour and quiet melancholy, seem to cast an inescapable spell on us, who get caught and captivated by the magic allure of her talent as an artist and her sense of poetry and story telling.

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