Elaine Robinson’s art explores connection, ancestry, nature, time and space. But in this blog she tells us about ‘Turning ‘ages’ which is both an installation and sculpture currently exhibiting nationally in city libraries around the UK. Housed inside a beautifully crafted cabinet, it contains books with personalised messages as well as other ephemera that comments on our relationship with books. I absolutely love it and visited the installation at both Nottingham and Leeds. It’s currently at Westminster Reference Library until April 2016.
Give us a quick introduction…
Born in the north of England and gaining an art and music degree, I worked in business and social work before becoming a professional artist. I have developed an approach to art and expression which works instinctively in the ‘moving moment’.
Turning ‘ages has been on the ‘move’ since 2012, visiting libraries up and down the country. Tell us more…
The idea to make Turning ‘ages first came to me during the mid 90’s whilst I was looking through an old map book of Paris dated from the late 19th century. Carefully placed inside and secured to one of the pages was a small pencil drawing of a Paris Road. It was a simple and lovely sketch and I couldn’t help wondering who the person had been who felt inspired enough to capture that moment in time. Roll forward nearly two decades, I then suddenly found myself creating ‘Turning ‘ages’.
The exhibition is housed in some beautiful wooden casing…
Tony Nielson, a skilled artisan, helped me design it. I wanted it to be like an old Victorian glass case that you might find in a museum with little stuffed birds that had once lived a life. Tony was also very helpful in terms of thinking through the design logistics, as the exhibition would need to be assembled and dismantled during the City Library Nationwide Tour. During this period it’s been moved and exhibited 11 times and it looks to continue as literary festivals have expressed an interest to exhibit.
How long does it take to assemble?
Turning ‘ages has been installed in different city library locations as part of its UK tour. It is carefully taken down from each library on the same day that it moves to its new home. The loose items in the bottom are removed first and then the hanging panel. Each element is wrapped up and lovingly placed inside the van. The antique style case goes in last. The entire process of de-installing the piece takes roughly 2 hours from start to finish.
I guess as it moves around it gained new meanings…
Turning ‘ages has become so many things since its creation. During its tour of the City Libraries all the staff started leaving signed mementos which represented their library space. Cambridge, for example, enclosed a paper origami phoenix.
The exhibition includes some very personal letters and artefacts. Any favourites?
Some of the beautiful memories found in the books of things written by people, mothers, lovers and friends have been so moving that my intrusion into the written words and memories forced me to think how I could honour their memory. That was when I decided to fan the personal letters within the installation. I love the map book of Paris with the delicate drawing of a hotel. Every time I look at it I wonder who the artist was. I’m also drawn to the love letter held in the book, Life is Elsewhere.
Where did you get the artefacts from? For a very long period I went around all the second-hand book shops in my area hunting hidden memories which had fallen or been take from some of the books abandoned and forgotten. I even found an old marriage licence from the early 1970s.
Tell us about your local library and what it means to you.
I feel honoured to be part of a public service and system that was believed in – and implemented by – people who were passionate about having a fair society.
The exhibition has a comments book. Want to share any?
I post these up on my website once the exhibition has left the respective library. When I was in Nottingham one person said they wished they had space for it in their home. A librarian said: “Maybe you should put on display things left inside books from this library- I always find find something inside books that I get from this library.” And of course you left a comment too! “I support libraries by returning books late and getting fines. I should have shared my receipts.”
Some people say it is sacrilege to deface a book. What do you think about this and do you write in books yourself?
Mmmm. Yes, I can understand people having a strong opinion about this. I always write in gifted book to friends and family, it captures a moment in time. I believe anything that enhances the relationship with the written word is positive.
Do physical books still have a role to play in an increasingly digital world?
Hahaha. Yes, I do believe this passionately! More than anything I think ‘turning ‘ages’ celebrates this transition and emergence. Primarily the work celebrates books and the connection and love affair we have had with the printed word as well as the celebrated library spaces. It comments and engages the observer to remember how we once used to store and keep our memories and how now, we have embraced the digital age. This blog is one way in which that conversation continues…
Dawn of the Unread is a graphic novel celebrating Nottingham’s literary history. It was created to support libraries and bookshops. It began life online and won the Teaching Excellence Award at the Guardian Education Awards in 2015 and has since been published by Spokesman Books (2017). All profits go towards UNESCO Nottingham City of Literature.
- Elaine Robinson’s website (elainerobinson.co.uk)
- Elaine Robinson’s Flickr (flickr.com)
- 15 Curious things found in library books (buzzfeed.com)
- Love notes found in books that will make you swoon (huffingtonpost.com)
- Books and Bowstrings: Issue 11 (dawnoftheunread.com)
- Lost messages in books compiled by W.B. Gooderham (bookdedications.wordpress.com)
- Leaving your mark on books (queenofcontemporary.com)