Artist Turns 24-Volume Encyclopedia Britannica Set into a Beautifully Carved Landscape

Not too long ago, an old­er rel­a­tive tried to donate the Funk & Wag­nalls ency­clo­pe­dia he’d owned since boy­hood to a local char­i­ty shop, but they refused to take it.

What an igno­min­ious end to an insti­tu­tion that had fol­lowed him for sev­en decades and twice as many moves. Like many such weighty pos­ses­sions, its prove­nance was sen­ti­men­tal, a grad­u­a­tion gift I believe, bestowed all at once, rather than pur­chased piece­meal from a trav­el­ing ency­clo­pe­dia sales­man.

By the time I came along, its func­tion had been reduced to the pri­mar­i­ly dec­o­ra­tive. Every now and then, he’d find some pre­text to pull one of its many vol­umes from the shelf.

Did I know that Tan­za­nia was once called Tan­ganyi­ka?

And Thai­land was once Siam!

The vin­tage Funk & Wag­nalls’ many facts, maps, and illus­tra­tions were not the only aspects in need of an update. Its pre-Women’s Lib, pre-Civ­il Rights atti­tudes were shock­ing to the point of camp. There was unin­ten­tion­al com­ic gold in those pages. A col­lage artist could’ve had a ball. Wit­ness the suc­cess of the Ency­clo­pe­dia Show, an ongo­ing per­for­mance event in Chica­go.

encyc brit carved

Mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary artist Guy Laramée takes a much more sober approach, above. Adieu, his sculp­tur­al repur­pos­ing of a 24-vol­ume Ency­clo­pe­dia Bri­tan­ni­ca feels like a memen­to mori for a dim­ly recalled ances­tor of the infor­ma­tion age.

Quoth the artist:

I carve land­scapes out of books and I paint roman­tic land­scapes. Moun­tains of dis­used knowl­edge return to what they real­ly are: moun­tains. They erode a bit more and they become hills. Then they flat­ten and become fields where appar­ent­ly noth­ing is hap­pen­ing. Piles of obso­lete ency­clo­pe­dias return to that which does not need to say any­thing, that which sim­ply IS. Fogs and clouds erase every­thing we know, every­thing we think we are.

An ene­my of 3D print­ing and oth­er 21st-cen­tu­ry tech­no­log­i­cal advances, Laramée employs old fash­ioned pow­er tools to accom­plish his beau­ti­ful, destruc­tive vision. What’s left is a delib­er­ate waste­land.

Kudos to film­mak­er Sébastien Ven­tu­ra for tran­scend­ing mere doc­u­men­ta­tion to deliv­er the befit­ting ele­gy at the top of the page. He presents us with a beau­ti­ful ruin. What­ev­er hap­pened there, nature will reclaim it.

You can see more of Laramée’s work at This Is Colos­sal.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Artist Takes Old Books and Gives Them New Life as Intri­cate Sculp­tures

The Sketch­book Project Presents Online 17,000 Sketch­books, Cre­at­ed by Artists from 135 Coun­tries

The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art Puts 400,000 High-Res Images Online & Makes Them Free to Use

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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