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Bookshelves as Art: Students find inspiration in the mundane

November 1, 2013

You may be surprised when stepping off the elevator on the fourth floor of James Branch Cabell Library. But don't worry, that's not a piece of driftwood you're looking at. It's a bookshelf.

Cabell Library's newest art installation is the work of five Art Foundation students in a class called Space Research. The students were challenged to design and build bookshelves, each with a similar function and a unique artistic vision. These are now on display throughout the library, Nov. 5-Dec. 5. 

"I asked each artist to draw a fantasy research shelf on a piece of paper as big or bigger than themselves," said Suzanne Seesman, an adjunct professor in the department. "In Space Research we are tasked with considering space intentionally. We also try to make work that enables others to consider spaces, objects and activities that are normally overlooked or taken for granted."

Why bookshelves? Instructor Seesman wanted to be sure her art students did some time working in the library--exploring art history, finding books in the Fourth Floor Art Browsery (a section filled with books on art, architecture and design) and gleaning a sense of the vast ways of creative expression through art. She asked her students to find inspiration through books about art and artists. 

Secondly, books and shelves are common, familar objects. When explored more creatively and with fresh eyes, the ordinary can become amazing. Students came up with a variety of ideas for materials and structures.

The branch-shaped bookshelf on the fourth floor of Cabell is a piece called "The Growth" by Jacqueline Javier. "I wanted to make [the bookshelf] organic and it just became a tree," Javier said. In her project summary, she explained further, saying, "The bookshelf engages the individual with its vivid contrast of lines and flowing motion. The tree itself represents how ideas can change, grow and morph over time and on top of a former 'solid base.'" Javier's bookshelf features six spaces for shelving books and is covered in papier-mâché

The dual functions of these bookshelves are as varied as their appearances. Some function also as workspaces. One includes a light fixture and a bed. One includes a game board for taking a break from studying or reading.  

"I came up with a couple of idea but I had to scale it down," said Jonah Hacinas, whose work was inspired by tatoo arts. "Carving was the most difficult part and it took a while." Hacinas said she was inspired by another artist's interpretation of traditional American woodcuts, and chose to decorate her bookshelf with stars, flowers, birds and other images.

Students had about two weeks to design, purchase materials for, build and decorate their bookshelves. For one student, this also included some electrical wiring. Bethany Allen's creation, "A and B," is actually a lighted, cushioned seat with shelving along the sides.

"I like building shelters and creating unconventional spaces," Allen said. Her piece provides a sheltered reading space for its user, and instead of shelves, uses 16 wire racks to hold books open at the last page read. 

Details on The Bookshelf Project

See some photos of the exhibit

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