After many years and thousands of books, Amanda Love displays sculpture 'Word Matter'

Recent work by the Granville artist and former bookbinder is on display in a Hammond Harkins Galleries group show through the end of the month

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
"Word Matter," a sculpture by Granville artist Amanda Love, on view at Hammond Harkins Galleries as part of the "6 plus 1" exhibition.

Before moving to Central Ohio three years ago, artist Amanda Love spent 14 years in Chicago working as a bookbinder and letterpress printer. But just before that, around 2002, a family friend who owns Zubal Books in Cleveland gave Love 7,000 books, some of which she dismantled and arranged as an art installation that resembled a river of books running along the floor and climbing up the wall.  

But even then, Love had a different image floating around in her head. She imagined a giant curtain of partially torn books hanging from the ceiling, the feathery, ripped-paper edges creating undulating patterns that could shift in different lighting and from various angles.  

The idea remained just that until Love relocated to Granville in 2018 and later began an artist residency at Dawes Arboretum in Newark, which provided the time and a large enough space to see the project through. And so, in an empty science laboratory at Dawes, Love spread her work across several tables. But more roadblocks popped up.  

“The residency actually got cut short because of COVID, but then Denison [University] had an art gallery in Newark, Ohio, so I moved into that space,” Love said. “Until I hang it, though, I don't know if this thing's going to work. So I got there, I hung it, and it didn't work, and then I had to start all over. That was December of last year.” 

After much perseverance, along with help from an engineer who advised Love to separately tether each piece of the installation (“Every single book is suspended on a strap individually with an air gun and small nails shot through,” she said), Love finally finished her long-in-the-works sculpture, “Word Matter,” which is hanging from the ceiling of Hammond Harkins Galleries in the Short North through the end of the month. The piece is part of the gallery’s “6 plus 1” exhibition, featuring work by six Hammond Harkins artists — Laura Alexander, Linda Gall, Paul Hamilton, Andrew Hendrixson, Andrea Myers and Tariku Shiferaw — and one guest artist (Love). 

To dismantle the books, Love took apart each hardcover edition by hand, ripping 10 or so pages at a time to create jagged-yet-soft paper forms resembling cascading waves or a mountainous landscape. The spines of the books on the backside of the sculpture offer an array of colors and patterns, all corresponding to the bookbinding technology used at the time of publication. On the front, isolated words and fragments of sentences peek out to create found poetry (“cheap... moth... marriage”). 

While going through her source material years ago, Love also separated 21 books from the boxes of thousands, though she didn’t know why or what to do with them. They just seemed special, like they could stand alone. Eventually, Love turned the books into individual mixed media pieces titled “Floating Word,” each of which feature a single, partially ripped book mounted on an old bookbinding board that Love painted and adorned with collage elements. 

“These are a still-life painting representation of the sculpture. When the sculpture was lying flat on the table [at Dawes] … you could see the hills and valleys rising and falling,” said Love, who mounted the remaining, unsold “Floating Word” paintings on the walls of Hammond Harkins Galleries near “Word Matter,” drawing connections between the implied movement of the books in the pieces.  

To Love, the entire project speaks to the concept of consilience, the unity of knowledge.

“Here I am making these shapes, and it reminds me of a landscape. And then I get to Dawes, and I start looking at it, and it's starting to look like tree bark. Then I started seeing flint, and then I started seeing mushroom formations,” Love said. “The ripping shape and the movement and the pieces around it, it all goes back to consilience. That form, that shape, that movement is a part of all of us. It's a part of the trees, part of the paper. It's a part of mushrooms. We are all made of the same thing. We’re made of the same matter, and that's why it’s called ‘Word Matter.’ This could be wood, it could be mushrooms. It just happens to be paper and words, but it's changing and transforming into something totally different.”