Earlier this week, I posted an article about author James Patterson’s latest publicity stunt: an exploding book. No doubt that book will have his name prominently displayed on it. As for the vast majority of creative – artists, writers, musicians – the name is as big a part of the brand as the work. That name can be very useful in a publicity campaign for a creative work, but also in a broader one to support a good cause. Patterson, for example, took out adverts in major American press in support of bookstores, libraries and publishing houses (see http://jamespatterson.com/reading_who-will-save-our-books.php#.VMEF80esU5o). His adverts courted a lot of attention: the James Patterson effect.
But can you spark discussion and get attention for a cause without a big name? Yes, absolutely, as one amazing sculptor has been demonstrating in Scotland over the past three years. The artist has been creating intricatesculptures from old books, and leaving them around to be discovered in places that relate to her mission: ‘in support of libraries, books, words and ideas’. She left two at the Edinburgh Book Festival, for example, and another at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. Her wonderful art and the mystique that surrounds it have attracted a good deal of publicity worldwide. But the sculptor herself? Entirely anonymous.
This month she granted the BBC an interview via email. She explained that she chooses places that she loves in which to leave her works, and makes the pieces to suit the places, including in each work a tag to illustrate the thinking behind the art. ‘The book sculptures were there, I suppose,’ she said,‘to make you read the tag.’ As an example, a tag on her now-famous butterflies sculpture includes the quotation: ‘We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty’ (Maya Angelou).
When asked why she remains anonymous, the artist replied: ‘Why would you focus on one ordinary individual? Libraries, galleries, museums etc are a better focus and a lot less ordinary.’ All she has said of herself is that she is ‘a woman, who had been a girl, whose life would have been less rich had she been unable to wander freely into libraries, art galleries and museums’.
No doubt the anonymity of the artist contributes to the reach of her work and her message. In today’s culture of celebrity, it is fascinating to find someone whose work is so acclaimed but who does claim any credit for it; to find art that speaks for itself, without any backstory or spin. The artist does not even use a pseudonym, or have a site to publicise her works. She reports that she does not even care whether some of her art, which she leaves without announcement, are never found. It is a powerful statement to make in the arts world.