Book Covers, Re-imagined in Paper
For the past month, I’ve been working on a 100%-analog, 100%-paper installation for the New York Public Library. I’ve been finding ways to convert the covers of books into paper sculptures for a window of favorite titles selected by Brainpicking’s Maria Popova (learn more about the project here.) As someone who has spent a disproportionate amount of childhood (and grad school, for that matter) occupying the near-realities of books, figuring out how to present them in the cathedral-of-books-that-is-the-NYPL was a dream project.
Physical books have always felt like spatial riddles to me—they arrive collapsed to a surreal degree. This is in part due to the design ingenuity of compressing miles of lines of text into a pocket-sized volume. However, it is also due to that telescoping feeling of new possibilities which makes a book’s humble physical presence so cartoonishly out of sync with the reader’s experience. This disparity gradually reveals itself as the reader moves from page to page, much like how a flat facade on a building becomes dimensional as a walker turns a corner.
In an attempt to present this dimensional idea of reading, I (along with MUCH help from friends) made 40 big paper books with 3-D papercraft covers. The cover designs are slavishly faithful to the originals (as high-fidleity as we could get using only paper) but extrude outward into space (as far as our 18″ deep display window would allow.) The play of parallax motion was expertly captured by Jacob Krupnick of Wild Combination:
In the (ridiculously-fun) process of translating printed ink covers into paper forms, I learned a lot about the resolution and limitations of paper. Here are a few of the more creative adaptations.
Mark Twain’s Advice to Little Girls—
Andrew Zuckerman’s photography book, Creature:
Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing—
Personal favorite Blexbolex’s book of silkscreened People—
George Orwell’s Why We Write—
And here is a look at the final installation (click to enlarge):
The books came together like this: we built two-part paper boxes for the substructure, adhered a background sheet of paper as the cover, faithfully reproduced the typography and design pieces (with the help of a desktop cutter), and carefully glued each design element into place.
Being in the library after hours to install the display was magical …and a little bit harried. Jacob shot a video showing the chaos of the scene coming together:
The final piece set in place was a miniature NYC skyline (with a miniature NYPL alongside out-of-proportion books), which was lit with model train lighting.
Making all of these books would have been impossible without the generous help of my super-amazing intern (and recent grad, looking for a job in NYC!), Jessie Sattler, and the patience+engineering ingenuity of Daniel Dunnam. Thanks also to everyone who came over glued letters and/or helped at the installation and/or offered moral support: Youngna Park + Jacob Krupnick, Shelly Sabel, Laura Budinger, Chelsey Tatum, Ethan Bodnar, Lila Marty, Zach Minnich,Karen Sandler, Kevin Cornett, Audrey Evans, Phillip Kim, Ryann Feldmann, Matt Gosline, Meghan Guthrie, Adrienne Wheatley, Adam Roddick, Caroline Settergern, and Stephen Kongsle for his Low Poly Mask (which is a good foundation template to begin building a face of any species!)