Secondhand books become art objects

Amy Cheng 

The object in her hand looks like an ordinary book – medium sized, white in colour, and sturdy looking, with a faint musty smell. Its cover is rough and hard, and cold to touch. On the front is a black and white image, framed inside a big arched window.

But the object isn’t a book, not anymore; it is a book sculpture. The black and white image is a composition of images, layered on top of each other like a page out of a pop-up book, and the arched window has been cleverly, and carefully, carved into the cover.

Chanelle Collier bends over her work desk on which are four of her sculptures, propped up on small beech blocks which open up like drawers.

Inside each block are shreds of paper, the remains of the books she cuts up when making sculptures. Each sculpture is displayed with a block, to ensure the completeness of each book.

This one is so cool,” she says, picking up the smallest sculpture. The blue book has a large rectangular window on the front cover. Behind the window are small pieces of paper, like fragmented pieces inside a jigsaw box.

It just smells so nice. It’s like it’s perfumed,” she says. It has a subtle floral fragrance, over which is the nutty smell of the paper.

Detail of Chanelle Collier’s ‘Place of Worship’; 26x18x4cm

Detail of Chanelle Collier’s ‘Place of Worship’; 26x18x4cm

To make these sculptures, Chanelle collects rejected and abandoned books. “I look at a lot of books,” she says. “The looking is funny because you never know what you’re looking for. I have all these rules: a book has to be stable, tightly bound and have a certain type of paper; it can’t be printed on gloss.”

She begins by carefully cutting into each book with a scalpel, cutting through several pages at a time. Sometimes she use images that are already in the book, cutting them out and gluing them in different locations, and other times she will create new ones by recreating a scene in the original book.

The finished product is an image with multiple layers, like a page out of a child’s pop-up book. The whole process generally takes a month, from beginning to end.

She picks up a sculpture. “As you go through it, you’ll see that the compositions change a lot. Every page is different. And I love that. It’s actually one of my favourite things. I don’t think anyone actually looks, even the people who’ve bought them,” she says. “It’s quite funny.”

‘Italian Alps’; paper, glass, wood, 21x14x3cm

‘Italian Alps’; paper, glass, wood, 21x14x3cm

Chanelle also makes prints from her sculptures. “When I cut each layer of a composition, I put the cutting board in so I don’t go through too many pages,” she says. These markings are recorded onto a plate, which is then fed through a press to make a print. These prints are often displayed alongside her sculptures.

If I find a book that’s really got a voice, like it’s still really breathing and speaking and it’s just asking to be read, that’s not the one I want to use for a sculpture. It’s the opposite of what I want to use.”