Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Fantastic in the Fine Arts: Mysterious Edinburgh Sculptures and the Work of Su Blackwell

This week, I learned of this unbelievably awesome, beautiful, and fantastic thing that's happening in Scotland: someone is creating sculptures out of books, and leaving them around Edinburgh.
It started in March with a tree and an egg filled with words (that, when put in order, make Edwin Morgan's "A Trace of Words").

And, magically enough, it continued.  There was a scene where a movie comes to life, with horses and men running out from a screen towards the filmgoers.  There was a dragon nestled in a teacup.  Another showed a child in a forest, with the inscription bearing the words "LOST (albeit in a good book)."

Each sculpture came with a tag, with words that are almost as beautiful as the sculptures themselves.  The tag on the movie scene reads, " A gift in support of libraries, books, words, ideas..... and all things *magic*"  The tag on the dragon in the cup reads, "A gift in support of libraries, books, words, ideas..... Once upon a time there was a book and in the book was a nest and in the nest was an egg and in the egg was a dragon and in the dragon was a story....."

Chrisdonia has posted pictures of all of these sculptures on Flickr and blogged about it over here.

On his blog, Neil Gaiman notes that some people have suggested that the artist might be Su Blackwell, whose work can be seen here.  And while I don't know enough about paper sculpture, or techniques of 3D art, or anything like that, to make a judgment about whether this speculation might be correct, I can tell you this--I think all of these works are amazing, regardless of who is doing them.

And I'm also very intrigued by how important the fantastic is in many of these works, both those by the mysterious artist as well as those by Blackwell.  Scenes of dragons, fairy tales, Narnia, and Alice are common themes in these sculptures, and I think that the tag found on the movie scene might suggest why: for someone looking to convey the magic of fiction, what better way to do this than to portray a scene from fiction that is, in itself, inherently magical?  This can certainly be accomplished merely by showing fictional characters coming to life, but portraying characters from a fantasy story adds another layer of magic to the image.

But I think there is also something more going on just in the act of mysteriously leaving art around a city.  Because in this act, there is so much uncertainty--uncertainty about who the artist is, what his or her motivations are, where another work of art might appear next.  And this uncertainty, this hesitation, is central to so many works of fantasy, where the reader or viewer is left wondering about what is real and what is not, where the strange elements of the story have come from, and  what their purpose might be.

And so I would suggest that regardless of their content, these book sculptures appearing in Scotland are inherently part of the fantastic.  And it is in this capacity to highlight the magic and wonder of day-to-day mysteries, perhaps, that the magic of these sculptures truly lies.

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