Reinventing the old

25 Jun 2014
3 min read
Armed with a sharp tip, Georgia Russell chisels deep inside the written word to extract its essence, giving birth to living shapes.

Georgia Russell is a young Scottish visual artist and graduate of the Royal College of Art. After winning a competition to reside in an artist’s residence in Paris, her explorations of the city became a source of inspiration to her imagination. Her wanderings led her to the booksellers along the banks of the Seine. What happened next? FOUR meets her at Masterpiece London 2014 to find out.

Do you actually cut real books for your pieces?

Most of my work is with real books. Never rare pieces but pieces that are of a certain paper quality, weight or subject. For this project I used a copy to get the big mass sculpture that I wanted.

Do you ever encounter people who think cutting up books is a sacrilege?

There’s always people who think that but I find these books in junk shops or they might be broken up parts of volumes. People don’t realise how many books are actually wasted or put in the trash every year. But it’s not really about that. A book for me is like getting bits of clay with a history. Books and texts bring something to me that’s malleable and can make a sense out of something. It’s about changing values, transforming ideas and the weight and importance of that. You’re always losing and gaining, there’s a passage through time, traditions renewed, loss, gain… there’s all these things going on that is out of our control in life. And that’s what these books represent.

When did you first start working with books?

About 15 years ago, in 1999. I was doing my Masters in London at the Royal College of Art and they have a residency programme where they send their artists to Paris for a month. I found myself in Paris and was supposed to be inspired by it. But I didn’t know what I was going to do. I walked along the Seine where they sell second-hand books on the riverbank and I just loved the look of them and the French typography is amazing, especially from the 30s, 40s and 50s. I loved these books and the idea that they were shared and had been read by so many different people – ideas that have gone through so many people’s minds and rethought. I started collaging and sketching and eventually I realised that the interesting part was that, sadly, I’m taking a book apart, but I’m talking about loss, gain, passage and emotion. That’s when I realised it’s more than just a pretty painting that I could do.

What’s your working process?

Most of the time I look at the content of the book. But more recently my pieces are becoming a little bit more abstract. The Ruinart piece has no title, it’s just a mass in a certain form. The last piece I did was for my solo show in Cologne. I got really good bibles from a Scottish family and I made them into a tribe of differently shaped pieces, like totems. For me they were about fighting between ideas and values, old traditions and new ways of living, the weight of that, the pride, the need and at the same time the resentment or disagreement.

What attracted you to the Ruinart project?

I’ve been living in France for 12 years and it was an honour to be approached by such a historical French company. I’m interested in culture and history, so I felt drawn to the project. Also, Ruinart is a historical brand but is at the same time very modern and modest as well. They are supporting the art world and have their own art collection. And it was my chance to give something back to France.

What inspiration did you have for the Ruinart bottle design?

The chalk cellars in Reims – they are amazing. The cellars date back to Roman times and were made by hand. The walls are covered in little chip marks. It’s a cathedral-like space of excavated chalk. They were used to hide refugees in the war. Now Ruinart uses them to store champagne because the temperature is perfect. They’ve got this amazing history and for me they are an amazing sculpture space that you wouldn’t be able to create today. They are just beautiful. And when I saw them I thought I needed to integrate them somehow into the project. There are two projects, the artwork and the bottle box design. It’s got my trademark cutting pattern and also has the similar chipped-away marks and waves like on the cellar walls, so it all flows together.

Where can we see more of your work?

I’m going to Miami in December where I will be showing with Ruinart and Galerie Karsten Greve. I’m also working on my first catalogue which will be ready within the next two years and I’ll have a solo show coming up in the next two years as well. I’m also at all the international fairs, like Cologne, Maastricht, Basel, Hong Kong Basel, Miami Basel etc. I want to develop my work now that I’ve had a certain success. I need to get back into the studio, become a hermit for a year, and come back with new and developed work.

To find out more about this project: