The Art of the Book

When Deanna Perez ’14 looks at a bookshelf, she doesn’t just see a row of book spines. Instead, she sees unwinding possibilities that can be unlocked both through reading and through art. “There’s endless potential in what could be between the leaves of a binding,” she remarked. In her Emerson Foundation project, “The Life of a Book: From the Bindery to the Pedestal,” she is crafting sculptures out of books to explore their narratives and to examine the balance between destroying books and giving them a new life through art.

Using books that the Hamilton College library would otherwise discard, Perez is creating two large sculptures this summer. In the first, she is piecing together the hard-covers removed from books, showing the spine, glue and thread used in the binding. She aims to show the progression of the book from its birth, commenting, “It tells the story of a book that you don’t get from reading the pages.”

For her other piece, Perez is focusing more on the written story. She is cutting out lines of text from books’ pages and weaving them together into long ropes. Eventually she will suspend these ropes, hoping to “create a forest of words that you can walk through.” She feels that this sculpture is reminiscent of “ideas unwinding from someone’s mind.”

Perez’s interest in book sculptures began when she took Professor Rebecca Murtaugh’s Introduction to Sculpture course. In a project titled “Turning Pages,” she created a piece in which she modeled the extension of a person’s mind while reading a book. Her sophomore year, she continued with a series called “Unbound books,” in which she examined the relationship between the imagination and reading. Both of these projects featured intricate paper sculptures emerging out of open books. Perez affirmed, “Books are more than they appear when sitting on a shelf,” one of the key points she hopes that her art conveys.

These projects gave her the experience she needed to work with paper, which she explained is a challenging material to sculpt: “You have to really know what you’re doing and understand it.” Professor Murtaugh also became Perez’s Emerson project collaborator and has been very influential to Perez’s work. Perez described her as “encouraging, supportive and always pushing me; Professor Murtaugh is a great mentor and an invaluable resource.”

Her previous projects also made Perez think about the ethics of using books in sculptures. She explained, “I’ve always felt a back and forth between destroying books and reinventing them.” In order to better understand that debate and its context, she has been studying the history and techniques of books binding. In the spirit of not destroying the book’s essence, Perez prefers to create sculptures that relate to the book’s narrative. She explained, “I really have a relationship with the words, with the book not as an object, but as a work of literature.” In working this way, she retains a sense of the book’s story while shaping it into something new.

Perez is a graduate of Lynbrook Senior High School in Lynbrook, NY.

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