“Guerilla Art” conjures up visions of confrontational subway taggers or the latest surreptitious Banksy installation — an anonymous creative work that makes a public statement. The two sculptures that mysteriously appeared at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August 2011 also fit that definition, in a witty and literary fashion.
The medium — repurposed books — was the message: “Support the literary arts.”
The festival works turned out to be part of a series of 10 intricately crafted from recycled hardbacks and snuck into libraries and museums in the Scottish capital throughout the spring and summer. The identity of the artist has yet to be revealed, although bestselling mystery author Ian Rankin has admitted that he aided and abetted the project in his hometown.
In March 2012, Rankin told Claudia Massie of the Spectator’s Arts Blog that he had never met the artist before she contacted him about her plan to raise awareness of the need to protect and consolidate the city’s artistic heritage.
“She proposed the leaving of one or two sculptures around the city when she visited with her partner,” Rankin said. “I met them both for the first time during that trip. Having thought it a success, she then decided to make some more sculptures to be distributed during further trips to Edinburgh.”
The literary invasion began with a delicate “poetree” found at the Scottish Poetry Library in March. An accompanying card, addressed to the library’s Twitter name, read: “It started with your name @byleaveswelive and became a tree… We know that a library is so much more than a building full of books … a book is so much more than pages full of words … This is for you, in support of libraries, books, words, ideas … a gesture (poetic maybe?)”
In all, sculptures appeared at the book festival, in the poetry library, the National Library of Scotland, the Scottish Storytelling Centre, the Central Lending Library, the Writers’ Museum, the National Museum of Scotland, and The Filmhouse cinema, “in support of libraries, books, words, ideas … and all things ‘magic.’” They are all still on display, if not in their original settings.
Rankin’s connection to the plot was revealed in subtle ways: his face appears on one of the audience members at The Filmhouse, some of his books formed the basis of other works, and he was appearing at the book festival on the day the works were discovered there. He — or rather his Twitter handle @beathhigh — was thanked by the artist in the guest book of the poetry library, where the final sculpture was discovered in September. To see more of the paper sculptures that popped up in Scotland visit this site.
In December a new Twitter account called “a book for xmas” appeared, with tweets addressed to the sculptures’ recipients. The tweets read, “In support of books, words, ideas and wishing you a magical xmas” and a link to a video on Vimeo (below).
That’s the 21st-century twist to this bookish tale of intrigue. All the notes on the sculptures were addressed to the institutions’ Twitter addresses.
And the last chapter has yet to be written: At the end of April 2012, three similar sculptures — one carved from an old encyclopedia — were discovered under equally puzzling circumstances in public libraries in London. Whether they were created by the same artist who set Edinburgh a-twitter last year, no one may ever know. But no one is trying too hard to find out, either.
“I think of it as a little gift, and we’re going to share it while it’s here,” according to a library spokeswoman. “It’s brightened everybody’s day.”
That’s a worthy statement for any work of art, anonymous or otherwise.