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These Sculptures Are Fascinating, But You’ll Never Guess What They Used To Be

We”ve featured a number of book artists on ViralNova before, ranging from those who carve out miniature sculptures in their pages to those who use them to create engrossing illustrations. Yet artist Jacqueline Rush Lee turns books into something else entirely. Her sculptures look more like rock formations or strange creatures. Look closely, however, and you”ll see the spines and pages of discarded books that have been transformed into something beautiful.

Nous, 2014

<i>Nous</i>, 2014

Flutter, 2007

<i>Flutter</i>, 2007

Lee”s work is divided into different series, where multiple pieces will explore the same stylistic and thematic elements. Below, the Devotion series sees books with their pages colored and stained into deep hues. The concept is that the books have been overtaken by “the inks of their texts.” Another series, Ex Libris, sees books fired in kilns to render them “fossilized.”

Always experimenting, Lee uses all kinds of methods to transform her books. She described the dizzying array of methods she”s used: “I have fired books in kilns, screwed them together into forms, embedded them in gypsum cement to create frescoes, folded and hand-stitched them, saturated them in inks to create inverse book forms…and “tree whorl-bombed” them by placing book “whorls” into tree hollows…as environmental installations in which termites and weather complete the form.”

Whorl-bombed Tree, Hawaii, 2012

<i>Whorl-bombed Tree, Hawaii</i>, 2012

Later, these books were removed from the tree and displayed, so viewers could see the changes to the paper made by insects and weather.

Anthologia, 2007-08

<i>Anthologia</i>, 2007-08

Ode to Anselm, 2013

<i>Ode to Anselm</i>, 2013

So where do these books come from? The Hawaii-based artist gets many of them from library donations on her home island of Oahu. “I get them very cheaply and sometimes free,” she says. “[The libraries] don”t know who I am, or what I do with the books. I also receive emails from fans of my work who offer to send me boxes of encyclopedias, and such.” Some of her pieces, including Nous and Aqua Fortis, were commissioned pieces using old textbooks, to explore the meaning of books in an increasingly digital age. For these, Lee worked with organization Upcycling Textbooks. Since her projects explore a variety of themes, Lee will look for books with different features for different projects. She even admits to measuring the books while she shops.

Crescere, 2012-13

<i>Crescere</i>, 2012-13

Take a good look at what”s happening between the covers, too!

Peacock, 2007

<i>Peacock</i>, 2007

Many people are skeptical of art made from books, believing it”s wrong to cut up a book when someone could read it. To counter this, Lee explains that “books are multiples and frequently discarded or decommissioned.” This means that they”d end up in the recycling heap anyway, or their information is so outdated as to no longer be useful. “The book is simply a delivery system,” she goes on, “and my interest is in making thought-provoking artworks from that “primary” source and creating visual “books” with new narratives that are elegant in concept and design.”

Some books are reshaped and combined into new forms, like Slice Trio from 2001.

Some books are reshaped and combined into new forms, like <em>Slice Trio</em> from 2001.

These kind of look like giant sushi rolls.

Bookmark Slice, 2001

<i>Bookmark Slice</i>, 2001

Lorem Ipsum III, 2010-12

<em>Lorem Ipsum III</em>, 2010-12

Other books are reconfigured entirely, turning them into objects that tell another story.

Vascellum, 2012

<em>Vascellum</em>, 2012

This piece was inspired by the practice of in medias res, in which a story starts or stops in the middle of the action.

Aqua Fortis (detail), 2014

<em>Aqua Fortis</em> (detail), 2014

This doesn”t look like a book, but it was created using one. The human figure was taken from an illustration in an anatomy book.

Aqua Fortis, 2014

<em>Aqua Fortis</em>, 2014

Meanwhile, the interior pages were cut into this delicate, web-like pattern.

Putting books in a kiln, as she did for the pieces below, seems like an extreme measure, and in some way it is: the temperatures inside get higher than 2,400 degrees, but the result is fascinating. “The remaining books were no longer recognizable in their usual context,” Lee says, “but transformed into poetic remnants of their former selves.” She”s also kind enough to translate that: “Just a whole other level of cool!”

Shrunken Encyclopedia, 2000

<em>Shrunken Encyclopedia</em>, 2000

From the Ex Libris series, this book has been fired in a kiln, with the temperature and moisture creating warped versions of the formerly recognizable books.

Endoskeleton, 2000

<em>Endoskeleton</em>, 2000<a href=

(via BoredPanda)

You can see much more of Lee”s work on her website. Prepare to be blown away by all the things you never knew you could do with a book! You can also check out a short video of Lee at work to get an idea of her process and the inspiration that books bring to her.

If you like reading about awesome books, check out what might be lurking on a shelf near you.