January 13, 2015

The anonymous Edinburgh Book Sculptor has given her first interview


The first sculpture, the "poetree", was left in the Scottish Poetry Library where it continues to reside. Image via Wikipedia.

The first sculpture, the “poetree”, was left in the Scottish Poetry Library where it continues to reside. Image via Wikipedia.

Anonymous artists, in our panoptical information age, have become increasingly rare. While graffiti artists like Banksy or Rambo obscure their identities behind a sobriquet to avoid prosecution for vandalism, actual unknown and nameless visual artists—people completely willing to reject self-exposure, of which there have been plenty throughout history—are pretty much unheard of.

However, an exception to the rule has been a visual artist focusing on books: the creator of the Scottish book scupltures. Her paper sculptures, meticulously fashioned out of old books and left in various Edinburgh cultural centers (libraries, museums, the Edinburgh Book Festival), began appearing in 2011. (And more on how we know it’s a woman in a moment.) Art made from books is certainly not a new concept, but the difference here is the mystery; since 2011, twenty total sculptures have been found, and nobody has claimed credit for them – until now.

BBC Scotland recently posted an email interview with a person who claims to be the artist. In it, she speaks to her motivations, her advocacy of literature, and why she left the sculptures where she did.

Question: Why did you start making the sculptures?

Answer: The first book sculpture, a little tree for The Scottish Poetry Library, was made primarily as a response to library closures and cutbacks. But it was also as a bit of fun for the library staff who, throughout Scotland, the UK and much further afield, provide a service in straitened times – above and beyond. It was a poor attempt to illustrate the notion that a book is more than just a book – and a library is a special kind of building.

Other delightful moments include:

Question: Why remain anonymous?

Answer: Why not focus on one ordinary individual? Libraries, galleries, museums etc are a better focus and a lot less ordinary.


Question: You placed the sculptures in specific locations – and some of them weren’t discovered immediately – was that part of the plan? Did you worry when a work wasn’t found immediately?

Answer: I didn’t have a plan when I left the pieces. I chose places I love. I made works that I thought suited them, added tags with what I suppose is my mission statement: “In support of libraries, books, words and ideas” and placed them in situ. That to me was the end. What happens next always was, and is, down to others.

The only previous account of anyone being in touch with the artist was from 2012, in which Robyn Marsack, the director of the Scottish Poetry Library, acknowledged in the Guardian that she knew the artist was a woman but had been given no other identifying details. The artist, who is an avowed fan of the SPL, left several sculptures at the library including the very first (pictured above). The SPL subsequently toured the first ten sculptures as a traveling exhibition, with the aid of an anonymous donor and Creative Scotland, an arts agency. Said Marsack:

But the mystery and anonymity of the series has been a very powerful ingredient of its attraction. I feel quite strongly we must respect her anonymity, and not blow her cover; that’s part of the joy of it really. All nine of the institutions who received a gift can put their hands on their hearts and say they believe in what the artist is supporting: books, libraries, words, ideas. Most of all, though, it calls us to a generosity that answers the generosity of the artist.

That there is an anonymous Scottish woman turning shredded books into fragile and complex art to support libraries and literacy, and taking zero credit, makes me feel very good about the state of the world. Here’s hoping that she keeps on keeping on – for the sake of libraries, reading, and my own childlike sense of wonder and amazement.


Liam O'Brien is the Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.