Lost Libraries by Abigail Reynolds includes work made at the beginning and end of the artist’s five-month-long journey of exploration she took into the complex religious and secular narratives of Europe and Asia. During the artists journey along the Silk Road, Reynolds traced and documented sixteen sites of libraries lost to political conflicts, natural catastrophes and war dating from 291 BC to 2011 across China, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Egypt, Italy and Iran. The conceptual framework of Reynolds’ practice as well as the materials she uses are found in libraries. Historically individual works have been enquiries into images from the context of books, and are underpinned by a deep respect for libraries as a community of thought made physical in architectural form.
Magic Mountain, 2011 - 2016 was last seen in the Yinchuan Biennial at the beginning of Reynolds’ journey for which the artist created a private study bench for a library. This not only houses a library of one hundred books as well as book plates, but also the viewer or reader. A library in itself, the work holds meaning as a potent structure within which the artist uses her own internal classification system to arrange a selection of books. The books in the library - for solitary or dyad contemplation - reflect on what it means to journey in the widest sense of the word. The Silk Road as a journey is represented in the library, along with many other journeys through time, space and thought. The seated reader is embraced by a mountain created from four heterogenous book plates supported on four glass sheets, their colours combine to form a rainbow.
A second free standing work made at the conclusion of Reynolds journey takes its name from the stone books or stelae - tall angled walls of Chinese characters - which the artist encountered in Xi’an. The structure, which takes the form of a screen, holds negative shapes in reference to the rolled papyri lost at many of the ancient library sites the artist encountered. Following the Silk Road through China into Uzbekistan the artist was repeatedly confronted with similar screens. The screen is an intermediary. It creates the other and keeps it present; it reveals yet blocks, fragmenting the gaze.
In the artists words, Stele II is a ghost of Magic Mountain, the piece responds both to the blanks, voids and fragments encountered at the sites and the artists sense of cultural dislocation as she made her solitary way across unfamiliar borders and cultures. The private library bench on the other hand is a practical object, a homage to the idea of a library as a community of voices, brought together in one form and acting as a physical catalyst for exchange.
Abigail Reynolds lives in St Just and has a studio in St Ives, Cornwall. She gradated from Goldsmiths University, London in 2002 following degrees at Chelsea College of Art and Design, London and Oxford University, Oxford.
Reynolds was the third BMW Art Journey winner. Images, texts and other documents originating from her journey along the Silk Road will be included in a book published by BMW and Hatje Cantz in autumn of 2017.
Reynolds will be in conversation with Sir Nicholas Serota about the journey and forthcoming book at Port Eliot Literary Festival in July. Ledger Lines: Abigail Reynolds, Sophy Rickett and Michelle Stuart runs at Kestle Barton, Cornwall from 27.05.2017 0 09.07.2017.
The artists work was included in the inaugural Yinchuan Biennial, 2016. Her work is owned by the Government Art Collection, London, Yale University Art Gallery, Yale, the New York Public Library, New York and numerous private collections.
Abigail Reynolds will be in conversation with international curator and art writer Hammad Nasar on Friday 30 June. Nasar was until recently Head of Research and Programs, Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong, he is the curator for the 2017 UAE Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.