SO THE mystery book sculptor is back. Last year, you may recall, an anonymous female artist left a series of intricate paper sculptures in the Scottish Poetry Library, the National Library of Scotland and other literary locations around Edinburgh.
Each one was accompanied by a note – “In support of libraries, books, words, ideas” – that seems increasingly poignant as libraries across the UK continue to suffer from funding cuts (those in Newcastle being the latest victim – a decision that, as playwright Lee Hall wrote last week, “makes philistines of us all”).
As word spread via the media, the ten sculptures became a hit with the public. Since August they have been touring Scotland, a journey that ends this week, back where it began, with an exhibition at the Scottish Poetry Library (open until 8 December), a book published by Polygon, and a treasure hunt for five new sculptures, which will be hidden around Scotland as of tomorrow.
Given the level of organisation that must have gone into the tour, the book etc, there must now be quite a few people who know who this woman is. As a half-decent journalist with lots of cultural connections I imagine I could find out easily enough if I wanted to, but actually I don’t. Mystery is difficult to come by these days, when a Google search will instantly find you an artist’s website, all their press clippings, and possibly their blog and Facebook and Twitter pages too. I’m sure I’m not the only person who finds themselves becoming more interested in a musician, author, filmmaker or other artist’s work if it is difficult to find out anything about them.
Why? Partly because, when everyone is constantly social networking themselves and what they do, resisting this marks you out as someone contrary and confident enough to be different from the crowd – which is, after all, what artists are supposed to do.
Specifically, it suggests you’re not interested in being famous. It’s sad that this is now a rare quality. Mystery book sculptor has been described as a literary Banksy, but I like to think of her as the antidote to Nadine Dorries. How do you get a society which seems obsessed by celebrity trivia to think about something more important? You could, like Dorries, decide that MPs should be celebrities too. That, though, is naive, condescending and, in the end, undignified and embarrassing.
Or, like mystery book sculptor, you can offer something different – a thoughtful, imaginative, public spirited idea, presented humbly and generously. Such as a piece of art anonymously left in a library. Or, come to think of it, a library itself. « Twitter: @aeatonlewis