“Nature does not know extinction; all it knows is transformation,” is an aphorism by Wernher Von Braun.
By Garrett Rowlan
The latest exhibit at the Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery at ArtCenter, entitled Tomes, tempts one to modify that quote: “Books do not know extinction, only transformation.“
Indeed, walking the linked galleries again and again, one sees books cut and compressed into the shapes of cameras, or with insides whittled to the likeness of a tree trunk (indicating another kind of transformation), or photographed and mounted to suggest an x-ray or a palimpsest with words floating atop each other.
As one who grew up with what are now known as a “physical” books, the exhibit seemed to bolster Von Braun’s semi-spiritual take on nature’s metamorphose. Indeed, standing in front of Olga Lah’s impressive “Translation” (2010), where the cascade of print from opened books suggests a frozen waterfall of words going from wall to floor with the lower pages bleached (or so it seems) to suggest foamy white water, one could almost hear the splashing of sentences, print transformed back to water.
Also impressive was Danae Falliers’ “Library” portraits, where untitled books are arranged on a shelf in color-coded patterns. Falliers’ portraits add to the impression of peaceful gravitas and bring to mind a favorite short story, “The Library at Babel” by Jorge Luis Borges. In that story, the universe is a library of linked hexagons running to infinity, and this exhibit creates a sense of there being more than what the viewer (or browser, for one part of the exhibit contains a variety of chapbooks that one can take down, sit and read.) sees within the discretely lit walls.
As all space is hinted at, so is time, especially in vitrines that feature old, hand-colored books, including a copy of The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens.
All in all, the exhibit produces a pleasant, contemplative mood and yet reminds us that change is a constant in this world. It runs until December 15.
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