For an installation at the majestic, literary lion-guarded midtown branch of the New York Public Library, artist Kelli Anderson reimagined the covers of 40 classic books and built a literary cityscape behind glass. Her "Big Books Made Out of Paper" are 3-D collage renditions of the jackets of 40 fiction and non-fiction greats, like Mark Twain’s Advice to Little Girls, Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing, and the Maira Kalman-illustrated Elements of Style. They hang suspended in a glass case above a miniature cut-paper skyline of New York City, illuminated by toy train lights.
The bookscape is the next dimension in a collaboration between the NYPL and blogger extraordinaire Maria Popova of Brain Pickings. Popova had curated a series of best-of lists for the Library Shop—"Wisdom of the Written Word," "Furry Friends," "I heart NY," and "Timeless Treats for Young Readers"—then recruited Anderson, conjurer of last year’s miraculous paper record player, to bring them to life.
"Books have always felt artificially compressed to me," Anderson tells Co.Design. "A good book is loaded with a specific feeling of transporting possibility, which makes its humble physical presence so cartoonishly out of sync with the reading experience. With the installation, I wanted to essentially decompress books and create objects that look like faithful reproductions from the front, and fantastical, telescoping constructions from the side."
Anderson’s almost scarily painstaking translations of printed-ink cover designs reveal the underestimated power of paper as a medium. "Paper is a material symbol of possibility hiding in plain sight," says Anderson. "It’s so easy to forget that the loathed paper your student loan bill is printed on could also be an airplane or a modular part of a larger sculpture or an amplifier for sound."
In an 18-inch glass case, sharp geometries, eye-popping color blocks, and origami-esque folds play with shadow and light, triumphant in the face of 2-D limitations. And you can’t help but marvel at the sheer obsessiveness of all that cutting and gluing: mustaches the size of fingernail clippings adorn the portraits on Blexbolex’s People; the lion’s whiskers on Andrew Zuckerman’s Creatures are perfectly curled and symmetrical.
The details of every typeface and logo are also religiously preserved. For five weeks, Anderson worked from her apartment with a rotating cast of collaborators, manically lining up letters and trekking to places like Beadworld and the model train store. "There were paper scraps everywhere—on the floor, in the shower, trailing my cats," she says. "I drew the shapes for each book cover on my computer, chose the color of paper, and outputted the design to a desktop cutter."
In this age of quick digital cutting and pasting, there’s something more and more refreshing ("and a little rebellious," Anderson feels) about making things with paper and scissors.
Jacob Krupnick, of the Brooklyn-based studio Wild Combination, filmed and condensed the installation process into a one-minute time-lapse video that buzzes with the energy of great collaboration. An empty glass case blooms into a sculptural work that captures the magic of the NYPL, that cathedral of infinite knowledge.
"Big Books Made of Paper," a "Library of Interestingness," as Popova calls it, celebrates the beauty of the individual book jacket—the ultimately human and personal decision to select a particular book and spend some time with it. "It’s like a physical love letter to what I find so curious and wonderful about reading," says Anderson.