Jonathan Callan: Art vs. Lit

Courtesy of Galerie Kudlek van der Grinten, Cologne

Courtesy of Galerie Kudlek van der Grinten, Cologne

Here’s a short piece I wrote for Planet’s blog last fall. Callan’s work is so gorgeous, I just had to repost this piece here. The images of his work look much better on Planet’s site.

In our electronic age, the book doesn’t have it easy. It’s up against so many gadgets designed for instant gratification, it’s no wonder reading is on the decline. But the book will persevere; it’s been through much worse — burnings and bannings, for instance. With this kind of history, it makes sense that a visual artist would choose an object so fraught with meaning to drill holes in, bolt down in layers, and inject with silicone rubber.
Jonathan Callan, who burst onto the London art scene during the Young British Artists sensation of the early 1990s, has been creating sculptures from old, discarded books since 2003. One of his intentions in these sculptures is to explore language’s fundamental shortcomings, so he puts his tomes to the test. Callan’s books nestle, cluster, and cling to each other; their vibrant pages bend and swerve, coming together like a meeting of the minds. His larger pieces resemble the cross section of a huge tree while some of his smaller sculptures conjure up Hanta’s book bundles in Bohumil Hrabal’s Too Loud a Solitude, a 1976 Czech novel celebrating the power and indestructibility of the written word.

Callan’s intention may be to highlight language’s limitations, but his sculptures pay graceful homage to the book — an object so emblematic of knowledge and the endless possibilities of the human mind that it’s impossible to escape this baggage. While language may have its own set of limitations, art does as well. Perhaps art and language simply need to work together in order to get it right.

[You can see some gorgeous images of an installation he did back in 2006 at Pittsburgh’s Mattress Factory here.]

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~ by Valerie Palmer on October 10, 2009.

2 Responses to “Jonathan Callan: Art vs. Lit”

  1. I like the idea of the book/written word becoming organic sculpture, returning to nature via form.

  2. […] can see it here. I wrote about Callan for Planet magazine years ago and even reposted the article here on The Slog. As my devoted Sloggers know, I am a huge fan of his book sculptures; they are […]

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