The Bookworm is a short film, originally exhibited as part of Shortlist 5 (Swiss Cottage Library, 2012, curated by Shape). The work was made while Simon Raven was artist in residence at Camden Arts Centre, as recipient of the Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary, for artists working with a disability.
Camden Arts Centre is sited in a former library, about half a mile up a busy high street from Swiss Cottage Library. Concerned about government spending cuts, leading to threatened library and gallery closures, whilst also thinking about Katharina Fritsch’s recent sculpture for the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square (titled ‘Hahn/Cock‘, the work is a giant, ‘Tory’ blue cockerel) Simon decided to make an ominous public sculpture of his own. “I imagined a B-Movie about a monstrous blue bookworm, crawling between the two buildings, feeding on books, gorging on fiction” he said.
In researching the piece he discovered that there isn’t really a ‘bookworm’, but the Death Watch Beetle (Xestobium Rufovillosum) and the common furniture beetle (Anobium punctatum) which will both tunnel through paper and books if they are nearby wood. The Chief Secretary for Ireland (1907-1916), Augustine Birrell, probably experienced one of these two insects when he discovered something had chewed through to the 87th page of a fifteenth-century vellum book. This would no longer be an issue a few decades later when the development of chemical book composition would render paper snacks less desirable.
Simon dressed up “in a blue sleeping bag, skeleton mask and wig” to become a bookworm and was filmed by Rachel Dowle “crawling, falling and wriggling down the road from CAC to Swiss Cottage Library”.
At the opening of Shortlist 5, while the resulting film was being projected, The Bookworm arrived unannounced and wriggled into the crowd. “It then made efforts to block, destroy and guard it’s projected image, using a bright blue toy Uzi, and by hammering wormholes into the wall, then performing mock self-crucifixions” said Simon.
We are delighted that Simon has allowed us to use this video as part of our launch of Dawn of the Unread. So once you’ve watched it, get over to our home site and see our incredible front cover designed by Andy Tudor and let’s start celebrating libraries and books.
Unfortunately a chemical compound has not been invented yet that can deter government cuts – a more serious threat to books than insects – but together we can show they are valued by visiting our local library and loaning out a book to celebrate National Libraries’ Day.
- Raven Burrows: An Old School Happening (wayneburrows.wordpress.com)
- Shape Arts: Disability-led Arts Organisation (shapearts.org.uk)
- National Libraries’ Day: Kate Maryon (nationallibrariesday.org.uk)
- Dispelling Library Misconceptions (readingagency.org.uk)