Jody Alexander‘s Keep: Modern Library, on exhibit at the R. Blitzer Gallery in Santa Cruz, is a thoughtful and finely crafted transformation of the skins of vintage library books which have been withdrawn from circulation into textile inspired two and three dimensional art pieces that could only come out of an intimate knowledge and a deep understanding of our emotional attachment to these books as objects and our response to the ongoing process of their obsolescence.
The very “skinning” of the book covers seems to me a redemptive process, hanging on, not to the words and ideas of the books themselves, which may have become outdated or superfluous, but to the remnants of our collective physical experience of them, the bits of gilded fonts becoming abstract “art marks”, the texture and feel of the linen, the retro hues, faded and worn over time, stained with our handling – soil from our carelessness, oil from out fingers and maybe even our very DNA. These books have been stamped with the library’s own lexicon of call numbers, due dates and recommendations: KEEP, REQUIRES FURTHER CLEANING, DISCARD. Librarian’s knowledge.
Skins are incorporated into swaths of stained, stamped and elaborately stitched European linen, inspired by the symbols Alexander discovered in a library cataloging book (which acted as her muse throughout the project) and by the utilitarian Japanese technique of boro, or “rags”, where that which is ripped or damaged is mended to further it’s life.
In her talk and book, Keep, Alexander shares a quote from Kei Kawasaki that refers to the philosophy behind boro… “there is an old Japanese saying that you shouldn’t throw away any piece of cloth big enough to wrap three beans”.
Alexander’s process (which had even involved dragging some of her work through mud and lakes as farflung as Shakerag Hollow, Kyoto and Santa Cruz) results in sublime abstract textiles that practically breathe with new life. Beyond a tribute to their past as well loved library books, they have morphed into another artistic plane that somehow says something touching and meaningful about out better natures.
I can’t help but think of the metamorphosis of a butterfly, but where focus is on the cocoon that is shed and honored and transformed once more…
This last Saturday the Jody Alexander gave a talk about her work at the gallery to a large and engaged crowd (where I gained all this insight into her art and her process).
Empty dress hanger, Stack of vintage books, Alexander’s first textile book for Keep.
There’s a lovely, signed, limited edition book, Keep, inspired by the exhibit -10% of the sales from this book will be donated to the Santa Cruz Public Library for the acquisition of books for the children’s collection – that’s just how Rydell Award Recipient, Jody Alexander rolls! You can get yours at www.jalexbooks.com.