The Written Image: Library of the Infinitesimally Small and Unimaginably Large

In her ongoing project “Library of the Infinitesimally Small and Unimaginably Large,” South African artist Barbara Wildenboer (barbarawildenboer.com) transforms old reference books into intricate, fantastical pieces of art, like the one above, “Atlas (Parallel Universe).” Wildenboer, who started the project in 2009, takes found books—dictionaries, atlases, psychology manuals, astronomy and gardening books—and lays them out flat, then cuts their pages into hundreds of tiny tendril-like shapes. The symmetrical patterns of the pieces are reminiscent of other scientific phenomena: A book on biological psychology looks like a set of nerves, a dictionary suggests a pair of feathery wings, and a book on vertebrate morphology calls to mind rivulets of blood. “The intention is to draw emphasis to our understanding of history as mediated through text or language and our understanding of the abstract terms of science through metaphor,” Wildenboer writes on her website. Wildenboer’s work includes a broad range of sculpture, collage, and photography that has been exhibited around the world, including galleries in South Africa, Jordan, and Hong Kong. She recently held a solo exhibition, The Invisible Gardener, a collection of paper sculptures and other pieces, at the Everard Read/CIRCA Cape Town gallery.