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Sculptures from Recycled Books Capture Edinburgh’s Literary Imagination

“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?)”

This paper tree sculpture appeared in the the Scottish Poetry Library. Alongside the tree were two golden egg halves, covered and filled with phrases from the poem, “A Trace of Wings” by Edwin Morgan.

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.

This sculpture, carved from a Rankin novel, was left in the Scottish Storytelling Centre. The attached card read, "“...A gift in support of libraries, books, works, ideas...Once upon a time there was a book and in the book was a nest and in the nest was an egg and in the egg was a dragon and in the dragon was a story....”

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).

A Book For Xmas from a book for xmas on Vimeo.

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.

Chandeliers: Overhead Art

An illustration of a medieval chandelier from King René’s Tournament Book (1460).

Chandeliers first shed light (although not much) during the Middle Ages. Originally, they consisted of two beams of wood attached in the shape of a cross with spikes at the ends to hold tallow candles (chandelier comes from the French word for candle), suspended from the ceiling by ropes or chains.

While the concept of overhead indoor lighting was revolutionary, the actual amount of illumination provided by candles did little to brighten vast spaces in churches, abbeys, castles and the fine homes of the only people who could afford them. And the candles were, after all, open flames dripping hot wax, with all sorts of accidents waiting to happen.

In the 17th century, chandeliers became more brilliant and more ornate as artists combined candles with different types of glass and polished brass plates to spread and reflect the flickering light. As new fuel sources became plentiful, gas and then electricity replaced candles with brighter and eventually less dangerous light.

3-tier “Icicle” chandelier from the early 20th century.

Elaborate electrified crystal chandeliers remain with us today as a source of beauty as well as light. Chandeliers’ design continues to change as artists — many more focused on decorative function than lighting capacities — experiment with unusual materials to crown and surround the still-miraculous indoor overhead light that we enjoy.  Here are some made with found materials.

“Chandelier” is a light reflecting sculpture by Canadian artist, Katharine Harvey which is currently displayed at the World Financial Center Winter Garden in New York City through May 11. The 21 ft. tall x 15 ft. wide sculpted chandelier consists of thousands of recycled plastic containers: water bottles, egg cartons, and more which have been washed, de-labeled and assembled by hand. Harvey said, “The oversized chandelier depicts a symbol of luxury while commenting on the glut of plastic in consumer society.”

A team assembling “Chandelier” in New York’s World Financial Center.

Left: Chandelier made from recycled wine barrel metal hoops. Right: Chandelier made from Bic ballpoint pens.

Chandelier made from glass beads, galvanized wire, acrylics and recycled materials by Durban craftsmen working for the Umcebo Trust.

Millennium Chandelier made from over 1000 exploded party poppers by Stuart Haygarth.

New Life for Britain’s Red Telephone Boxes

As an armchair traveler, I always like to read about offbeat, seldom-visited or forgotten destinations. That’s why I like Urban Ghosts Media, an e-magazine “about abandoned places, hidden history and alternative places.”

The writers consider art to be a component of the urban landscape and often discuss works “created from discarded objects” in Britain (their home base) and abroad. This fits into their coverage of “the abandoned and the repurposed” – which neatly fits with our interest in art made from recycled, repurposed and natural materials.

Urban Ghosts recently published a story about what has happened to Britain’s iconic red telephone boxes since they were replaced with a more utilitarian model. When the booths were separated from their phones, they began to fall into decay but some enterprising recyclers have found new and imaginative uses for them. The editor of Urban Ghosts has kindly permitted us to reprint their findings.

When Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s red telephone box was introduced in the 1920s, few could have known that it was destined to become an enduring icon of Britishness.  But almost 90 years later, the colourful kiosks have largely become a thing of the past.  Of course, the upside is that many have come up for sale, some creatively recycled and repurposed in surprising ways, others transformed into urban art exhibits.

Repurposed Kiosks – Libraries, Cash Machines, Art Galleries and … Toilets!

red telephone box library Urban Art, Libraries & More: Recycling Britains Iconic Red Telephone Boxes

(Images: David Hillas; Geoff Pick; cc-sa-3.0)

Years ago, country folk weren’t impressed by the bright red boxes, lobbying local councils to tone them down.  But times change and several communities have gone to great lengths to preserve what they consider a part of their heritage.  One of the most celebrated examples is the kiosk in Westbury-sub-Mendip (above left), transformed into the smallest library in Britain, and open 24/7, 365 days a year.

red telephone box art gallery Urban Art, Libraries & More: Recycling Britains Iconic Red Telephone Boxes

(Image: John Grayson, cc-sa-3.0)

According to the BBC: “BT has received 770 applications for communities to ‘adopt a kiosk’, and so far 350 boxes have been handed over to parish councils”.  In addition to libraries and book exchanges, abandoned red telephone boxes and found new leases of life as ATM cash machines (below) and possibly Britain’s smallest art gallery (above).

red telephone box atm cash machine Urban Art, Libraries & More: Recycling Britains Iconic Red Telephone Boxes

(Images: John S. TurnerChristine Matthews; cc-sa-3.0)

And while some kiosks have been recycled into miniature art galleries – others have themselves become urban art installations.  Check them out below, and don’t miss this article about a Somerset pensioner who converted a kiosk into his personal toilet.

Red Telephone Boxes as Recycled Art Installations

red telephone box art Urban Art, Libraries & More: Recycling Britains Iconic Red Telephone Boxes

(Images: Steve FarehamOast House Archive; cc-sa-3.0)

From the local and the homemade (above) to grand designs and professionally commissioned installations (below), these recycled artworks reflect the popularity of the red boxes in the national psyche.

red telephone box urban art Urban Art, Libraries & More: Recycling Britains Iconic Red Telephone Boxes

(Image: Don Swanson (see website), cc-nc-sa-3.0)

Whether artistically symbolising the decline of an icon, the graffiti and vandalism such objects inevitably endure, or simply using this denizen of Britishness as a departure point for a truly offbeat creation, Gilbert Scott‘s distinctive design remains an integral part of the street-scene.

urban art red telephone box Urban Art, Libraries & More: Recycling Britains Iconic Red Telephone Boxes

(Images: sharkbait (website); Pete Jordan (website); yoga mama; Katy Stoddard (website); cc-nc-sa-3.0)

Finally, an example (above right) outside Archway Tube station in London has been recycled as a flower box, adding a splash of green and yellow, as well as red, to this utilitarian public square.

The red telephone box, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, is as quintessentially British as fish and chips, the Shipping Forecast, eccentric place names and – sadly – doomed pubs.  But after years of dedicated service, this icon of cities, towns and villages throughout Britain and her former colonies has largely become a thing of the past.

red telephone box 3 Decaying Red Telephone Boxes: An Abandoned British Institution

(Image: Garry Knight, cc-sa-3.0)

The popular red kiosk was the result of a 1924 competition initiated due to widespread dissatisfaction with the original K1 (Kiosk No. 1) design across London.  The winning design, in the classic tradition, was submitted by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, architect of Liverpool Cathedral and Battersea Power Station.

red telephone box 4 Decaying Red Telephone Boxes: An Abandoned British Institution

(Image: rofanator, cc-nc-nd-3.0)

Scott had intended his K2 kiosk, with domed roof likely inspired by Sir John Soane’s tomb in St Pancras’ Old Churchyard, to be painted silver.  But the Post Office selected red to ensure the boxes were noticeable.  This stirred a public outcry at the time, and boxes located in areas of natural and historic beauty were painted a more subdued grey with red glazing bars.

red telephone box 5 Decaying Red Telephone Boxes: An Abandoned British Institution

(Image: pauldriscoll, cc-nc-nd-3.0)

Ironically, it wasn’t strictly modernisation that led to the demise of the red telephone box, as the classical K2 model gave way to the definitive K6 in 1935, commemorating the silver jubilee of King George V.  The death blow was dealt by privatisation in the form of British Telecom, which, from the 1980s, installed the more utilitarian KX100 in place of thousands of traditional kiosks.

red telephone box 6 Decaying Red Telephone Boxes: An Abandoned British Institution

(Image: Jon Burney, cc-nc-sa-3.0)

Around 2000 red phone boxes have historical listed status, but many stand neglected, vandalised, or simply abandoned, with a lucky few re-purposed.  In an ironic twist, the public outcry that had accompanied the introduction of the red telephone box was matched by protests over its demise, as many who had originally opposed it campaigned for the preservation of their beloved kiosks.

red telephone box 2 Decaying Red Telephone Boxes: An Abandoned British Institution

(Image: Rick Harris, cc-sa-3.0)

Its appearance in various urban art exhibits reflects the kiosk’s cult status, while adaptive reuse and popularity with collectors underscores its enduring legacy as an eccentric symbol if Britishness.  But the all-too-common sight of decaying red phone boxes are perhaps the most poignant reminder that things have moved on, and that eras always come to an end.

Dumpster Divers Mark Two Decades of Turning Trash Into Art

If you go looking for the roots of the Art Eco movement, you will soon run across the Dumpster Divers of Philadelphia.

Twenty years ago, a half-dozen artists who were already working with found objects were getting together informally in diners around town, sharing ideas. Joel Spivak, Neil Benson and Leo Sewell were part of the group, which has since grown into a collection of 40 artists, a pop up gallery, events, eco-education programs for school-aged kids, exhibitions up and down the East Coast, and inspiration for the next generation of environmentally conscious artists.

Isaiah Zagar standing in front of his mural surrounding the Magic Garden. He placed trashed mirrors, bottles, bicycle parts and tile into the walls. The Garden turned into a labyrinth with tunnels and alcoves filled with his murals.

Isaiah Zagar standing in front of his mural surrounding the Magic Garden. He placed trashed mirrors, bottles, bicycle parts and tile into the walls. The Garden turned into a labyrinth with tunnels and alcoves filled with his murals.

An original Diver, Isaiah Zagar, began transforming a vacant South Philadelphia lot into the fantastical mosaic Magic Gardens in 1994 with detritus from the South Street corridor, just after the monthly meetings formalized into an organization (albeit without bylaws or dues). Zagar’s efforts reflect the Divers’ philosophy of creating beauty out of what other people call “trash,” and helped revitalize the entire neighborhood.

Benson said what brought the Divers together originally was an aversion to paying for art supplies.

“My motto is ‘Trash is just a failure of imagination’,” he said in a 2011 video interview.

That imagination was on display in 2006, when 25 of the Divers all took the same 25 objects and created the now legendary “25 x 25” exhibit.

"Moter and Cild" by Burnell Yow

“Moter and Cild” by Burnell Yow, which was displayed in the “25 x 25” exhibit. He said “It would have been ‘Mother and Child’ but I didn’t have any Scrabble™ pieces of the letter ‘H.’” (Photo by Yow)

Untitled sculpture by Betsy Alexander, which was displayed in the “25 by 25” exhibit. (Photo by Yow)

Untitled sculpture by Betsy Alexander, which was displayed in the “25 by 25” exhibit. (Photo by Yow)

The Divers also have an aversion to paying for gallery space. Benson said they have worked successfully with several landlords to fill otherwise-empty commercial spaces for no rent, with the understanding that the gallery would move as soon as a paying tenant surfaced. It’s a way to keep neighborhoods from becoming derelict, and the arts have been keeping the lights on for business during the real estate bust in locations around the country.

Group photo of the Dumpster Divers taken at The 2012 Annual Diver Awards Banquet at the Famous Deli (Photo by I. George Bilyk)

Group photo of the Dumpster Divers taken at The 2012 Annual Diver Awards Banquet at the Famous Deli. (Photo by I. George Bilyk)

For their two-decade dedication “to raise the consciousness of art lovers and heighten awareness of taking a creative approach to support a more sustainable city, country and world,” the Dumpster Divers received an official Tribute from the Mayor of Philadelphia Michael A. Nutter. He recognized April 1-7, 2012, as the 20th anniversary of the group, and urged all citizens to be aware of their ongoing efforts “to ensure Philadelphia’s future as a green and sustainable city through recycling…”

To see what the Dumpster Divers are up to now, visit their website.

Putting the chic into eco-chic

Italian designers are more likely to send leather-and-fur creations down a Fashion Week runway than anything made with reclaimed materials. But a granddaughter of the venerable House of Fendi’s founders has not only brought the recycling ethos to the world of high fashion, she has also opened Re(f)use, a chic boutique in the heart of Rome showcasing her line of handbags, furniture and accessories incorporating reused materials.

In the early part of the 21st century, like so many other industries, high fashion was hit with merger-and-acquisition fever. Fendi, started by a husband and wife team in Rome in the 1920s, first partnered with Prada, then was totally acquired by luxury conglomerate LVMH. The company that made fur coats the status symbol for the “Mad Men” generation still specializes in finely crafted shoes and leather goods, with the Fendis’ five daughters at the helm.

Designer Ilaria Venturini Fendi and one of her company's eco-friendly bags made in Africa.

Designer Ilaria Venturini Fendi and one of her company's eco-friendly bags made in Africa.

Ilaria Venturini Fendi, the youngest daughter of one of the five sisters, left the family firm shortly before LVMH eliminated her youthful Fendissime line. She retired to her organic farm north of Rome, and told W magazine that she wanted to completely turn her back on the fashion business for being “so passive about what really mattered, like the environment.”

But the third-generation designer soon turned a greenhouse into a studio, and working with former colleagues from the Fendissime days, began developing fashionable accessories from reclaimed materials. In 2006, her Carmina Campus label was born.

Carmina Campus' Belt Bag

Carmina Campus’ Belt Bag.

Ilaria Venturini Fendi's one-of-a-kind bags incorporating swatches and samples from leather factory floors

Ilaria Venturini Fendi's one-of-a-kind bags incorporating swatches and samples from leather factory floors.

Bags from Carmina Campus' "Dragon Bags" line. Created with scraps of Masai fabrics, they are semi-finished by African artisans and later completed in Italy.

Bags from Carmina Campus' "Dragon Bags" line. Created with scraps of Masai fabrics, they are semi-finished by African artisans and later completed in Italy.

Venturini Fendi’s label sells items that incorporate reused, repurposed and upcycled materials worked by skilled Italian craftsmen to the highest standards of design. There’s nothing “homemade” about Carmina Campus items, which are sold in high-end venues in Milan, London, New York and Tokyo, as well as Re(f)use in Rome. And while the exclusive, upscale items contain scraps and discards of fine material from fashion houses or fabric from Mini cars, few have 100 percent recycled content.

Not so with Venturini Fendi’s latest project. The Made in Africa line started on her farm when she was advising a group of beekeepers from Cameroon. As she learned more about the country, the more she saw the possibilities of bringing work to its impoverished people while bringing eco-consciousness to fashionistas worldwide. Michelle Obama and other First Ladies received a Cameroon “Message Bag” from Carmina Campus at the 2009 G8 Summit in Italy.

Bags from Carmina Campus' workshop in Africa

Bags from Carmina Campus' workshop in Africa.

Carmina Campus now offers a line of 100 percent Made in Africa bags crafted from materials including reclaimed safari tents and fabric leftovers from the ultra-chic 10 Corso Como in Milan. The project has expanded to Kenya and Uganda and is overseen by the Ethical Fashion Program of the International Trade Centre, a joint venture of the United Nations and the World Trade Organization.

Venturini Fendi’s ultimate goal is nothing short of transforming the consciousness of the entire fashion industry. In 2011 she won the Premier World Fashion Grand Prize.

“What I didn’t like when I was in fashion before was that what you created was gone in a season,” she told W in 2011. “Now I want to make lovely things that last. When I hear that other designers want to do the same, I am happy. I want fashion to be the promoter of change to the point that there will no longer be any need to make a distinction between fashion and ethical fashion.”