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Culture Lust by Angela Carone

Artist and Book Lover Cheryl Sorg Destroys Books to Make Art

Artist Cheryl Sorg loves books.  She reveres them.  She can rattle off her favorite authors ( Haruki Murakami ), which amounts to quite a literate list.  But in order for Sorg to make her art, she has to destroys books.  Her large, almost diaphanous sculptures literally come from the pages of a book. In fact, Sorg does something that might make book fetishists (and lets face it, there are plenty of us) cringe: she takes a scissors to the page. Sorg cuts each page line by line, into individual strands of text, and then tapes them into huge shapes, spirals, and mazes.  Each sculpture derives from one novel.  In fact, she buys two copies of the chosen book so that she has both the page's front and back to work with, and therefore can include the entire novel in a sculpture. She made an 11ft spiral sculpture out of Herman Melville's Moby Dick , including every line of the text in the order in which it was written.  Needless to say, these pieces can take hundreds of hours to make.

Sorg's work is currently on view at the Encinitas Community Library in an exhibit titled text.context . The Moby Dick piece isn't in the show (it's now in a private collection), but there are two large pieces featured, one made from Roman poet Ovid's Metamorphoses and the other from The Odyssey by Homer. The Metamorphoses piece is titled "Bodies I have in mind, and how they can change to assume new shapes..." and includes 15 three foot spirals, with each spiral representing a chapter from the book and composed of its words. In fact, if you want to contort your head and strain your eyes, you can read the whole book within Sorg's spirals.

"Bodies I have in mind, and how they can change to assume new shapes... " 2007. 30 inches x 30 feet.


The first spiral's center is composed of small circles, but as the piece/story progresses, those circles evolve into a butterfly by the 15th spiral.  From a distance, these sculptures look spare and ethereal, but up close you can see the detailed world of the text and Sorg's handiwork. She says the process is completely meditative for her, and with two toddlers under the age of three, who can fault her for wanting to lock herself away with scissors and a good book.

Text.context also includes a piece based on Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude .  It features handsewn paper butterflies cut from the pages of the novel. Sorg installed them in a landscape and then photographed them.  The resulting image has a romantic and magical quality mirroring the tone of the novel, which includes a character followed by a halo of butterflies.

Untitled ( One Hundred Years of Solitude ) 2000. 20"x30" color photograph.

There are other photographs in the show, including a few from Sorg's time in art school at the Massachusetts College of Art. It was there that Sorg lit upon the idea of using books in her artwork.  Initially, the purpose was to make an interesting photograph, but as she continued to create sculptural works and installations to photograph, the sculptures themselves became the focus.  Here are some of those early photographs, also on display in the exhibit. 

Untitled (oh, what a tangled web we weave), 1999.  20"x30" color photograph.


Untitled ( The Beautiful and the Damned ), 1999. 20"x30" color photograph.

Spinning Yarns ( Transformations ) 2003/2009

For the above piece, Sorg took two copies of Anne Sexton's Tranformations , cut them apart line by line and assembled them in readable order with tape into a 300-foot long ribbon and then wound it into a ball, five inches in diameter.  It was originally created for an exhibit at Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston where Anne Sexton is buried.  The ribbon was wound around the trunk and branches of a tree. 

I admire the attention to detail and craft in her work. But I also love the parallels between her work and the writer's life.  Writers spend hours and hours alone, laboring over every word in their novels, then Sorg takes that end product and spends hours and hours alone in her studio, working with their text to create something completely different. I love the story of the process as much as the work itself.  You can meet Cheryl on Saturday, March 14th at the Encinitas Community Library where there will be an artist reception from 1-3pm. 

Artist Cheryl Sorg with her sculpture made from Ovid's Metamorphoses.