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Destroying Books For Art: Photographs By Cara Barer

Photo by Cara Barer

Above: Wave and Fog 2006, H 25.75” x W 36” edition of 12, H 17”x W 24” edition of 15, H 12.75” x W 18” edition of 35.

There's long been some controversy surrounding artists who use the materiality of books in their work. As the argument goes, if artists cut up pages or destroy the spines to make art, they are committing a sacrilege. Fetishizing books is quite acceptable. In fact, it's practically admired in this day and age when readers of books comprise a small slice of the population.

I'm a reader. It's in my genes to love books. I've moved a lot over the years and multiple boxes of books have plagued the backs of my generous friends. I'm as romantic as the next person about old bookstores and tortured writers, smoking their way through their first novel. But I'll admit, I no longer fetishize the book. In fact, the idea of leaving books in different public places for someone to stumble upon is appealing. I don't need to hold onto them any longer.

Maybe that's why the idea of cutting up a book or dunking it in water to make art is not disturbing to me. Take the work of Cara Barer. I first saw Cara Barer's photographs here in San Diego at last month's Beyond the Border International Art Fair. Barer wasn't there, so I looked her up online and discovered that this ongoing project was inspired by a random encounter with the Houston Yellow Pages dangling from a telephone booth. Remember those? Telephone booths?

Barer began collecting outdated books from friends and shopping at half-price stores to find books she could experiment with. She bends and folds the pages and turns the books inside out to make sculptural forms to photograph. Books that no longer have value to her get the most rigorous transformation. Her copy of "Windows 95" soaked in a bathtub for a couple of hours before it was shaped and lit for the camera.

Barer has said she hopes to raise questions about the ways in which people obtain knowledge in the modern world, and about the future of books. I don't think this work is complex enough to do that. But I do think the images are a lovely exploration of form and have a strange delicacy about them.

In fact, I wish I could choose a favorite novel and then give it to Barer to see what she would make. It would add a new way of experiencing the book and its pages. What the fetishists don't realize is that work like Barer's presents new ways to honor the books in our lives.

Check back this week to see more art made from books.

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