Lately in the studio I've been working on altered books. Old books: the colors, the textures, the pages, the fonts; books from the 1800's are my favorite. I find them at flea markets, antique stores, junk shops. I usually don't tell the seller that I intend to cut them up, We have all learned from a young age that books are *not* to be drawn on, ripped, stained or marked in any way. I do have a tiny fear that they will refuse to sell them to me once they know they will soon not be a traditional, readable book any longer. It is a deep-rooted social belief about books: they are to be protected, opened and read. I've had viewers at exhibitions take my books off the stand and try to open them, although they have been cut clear through to the back cover and filled with found objects, and then, shocked, stop themselves and apologize. The impulse is a habit. One of my favorite novels is Fahrenheit 451, not because the books are burned, but because they are treasured.
I live with an old book for a while before it decides what it wants to say. I slowly flip through the cast-aside cut-out pages of previous alterings, and phrases, words: an entire story finds me bit by bit. I say things I didn't know I needed to say. I make up imaginary rooms, characters, alter egos. It is so cathartic and healing. Exciting. That story (my story) had laid within that old book since 1913 or 1887, waiting for me to come along and pick it out. I don't think of this as disrespectful: just as a continuation of life, of the human story and condition. Stories and experiences change, but the basic tenants stay the same: words, expression, the brain working to do its best. We build on the intelligence of people before us in our daily society and lives; I build my narratives from the words of those who had a say previously. In a way, they continue to speak.