South African artist Barbara Wildenboer thinks of books as living things. In her art, she operates on them, cutting apart old books to reveal the sprawling yet delicate central nervous systems trapped within the pages.
Inspired by the delicate fractal patterns of nature, Wildenboer turns old books into elaborate sculptures, in which individual pages have been transformed into wondrous patterns of papercraft filigree. The books she chooses to operate upon are all old hardcovers, but otherwise can be any genre, from old translations of The Odyssey to weathered old atlases and hardcovers.
What’s the point of her work? Wildenboer tells me her sculptures are a reflection of her own fascination with subjects as diverse as fractal geometry, nature, mechanical systems, and—of course—books. The artist views her sculptures as metaphors for the interconnectedness of all beings. A single sculpture can take days to put together.
According to Wildenboer, one of the most challenging aspects of her work is walking the razor’s edge between sculpture and vandalism. Her altered books are found in flea markets and old bookstores, and she often picks them for their antiquarian qualities, but transforming them into a sculpture alters these volumes forever. Consequently, Wildenboer tries to work only with books that look rare, but are actually relatively common, sometimes teaming up with a family friend who runs a rare book shop in Cape Town to make sure that the book she’s about to dissect is a dime a dozen.
The Cape Town artist has participated in several group exhibitions and art fairs both nationally and internationally, including in South Africa, San Francisco, Dubai, and Hong Kong. Her latest body of work was called The Lotus Eaters; it opened at The Reservoir at the Oliewenhuis Art Museum in Bloemfontein in 2014 and subsequently toured South Africa.
You can see more of Wildenboer’s work here.