The work—and identity—of Edinburgh’s mystery bird sculptor has been a recurrent theme throughout the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Speculation continues to revolve about who she might be and what inspired her to produce her captivating series of works. Now here’s one possible solution to her enigma—all of it pure speculation, but based on some good evidence.
Walking back to my digs in Edinburgh, I stopped off at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art to see their fascinating “Witches and Wicked Bodies” exhibition. In their permanent collection is this work by André Breton, entitled Poème Objet (Poem-Object):
Now, remember that the very first sculpture created by the book sculptor was the “Poetree,” now on display at the Scottish Poetry Library, and originally dedicated to that institution.
Remember also that the book sculptor constantly uses bird motifs in her work. In the very same small room in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art we have this work by Salvador Dali, entitled “Oiseau” (Bird):
The room is also full of works by Max Ernst, who also features birds as a major motif running through his work.
The mystery sculptor also often features cages in her works. In this same room, we have the following images by Man Ray:
… and by Denise Bellon:
Finally, if any artistic tradition ancient or modern most closely resembles the work of the book sculptor, and might have inspired it, it’s the assemblage, collage and found art traditions initiated by the Surrealists.
So could that room in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art have been the place where the inspiration for the Edinburgh book sculptures first hatched?
All the above is speculation, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the real book sculptor spoke up to rubbish it. But here’s one speculation further…
Yes, even if this speculation is true, the room in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art could have inspired just about any casual visitor. But … the mystery sculptor is clearly someone with considerable craft skills, which have been developed to such a pitch that she might exercise them professionally. She is also someone deeply read and highly cultured—her book sculptures are literally (sic.) crafted from allusions in the actual pages of books by writers from Edwin Morgan to Ian Rankin. She is clearly local to Edinburgh, with a deep love of Scottish culture, art and writing. She presumably has some leisure time or is in a sedentary occupation, as her sculptures, and all the work involved in preparing them, must require quite a lot of hours. And if my theories about the genesis of her sculptures are correct, then she may well be someone exposed to the works I mentioned, surrounded by them and in a position to be inspired by them.
So, could she be a curator, or even a conservator, at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art?
All of that is entirely speculation, and the final answer could be something completely different. But the mystery of the anonymous book sculptor is the kind that sets the imagination working, and is as fascinating as any detective story by Ian Rankin…