Banoo Batliboi’s book sculptures are more than just dexterous craft-pieces. They are page turners

Ceci n’est pas une pipe proclaimed surrealist painter Rene Magritte in a statement accompanying his painting of a pipe, famously questioning the truth of what we see. “This is not a book”, we can say about each of Banoo Batliboi’s book sculptures. But it is, or at least, it was. It’s not everyday you see the pages of a book turned in a way so it becomes unreadable, the type escaping into folds, text stippling to textures, a story beyond the reach of the eye. The visual anatomy of Banoo’s book sculptures defy unravelling, like an M.C. Escher painting with winding staircases that meet unto themselves in a never ending spiral.

Banoo’s works call for a highly dexterous handling in crafting with pages. Yet, her new avatars do not use glue or sticky tape and I have to marvel at how the layers stay in place. Banoo insists that her twisting, twining, twirling and tumbling of pages can all be reversed to get the original book back intact — “You can open it out and read it” — a fact that appears even more incredulous, over and above the making of such complex artefacts. Her technique of sculpting in no way destroys the book and the contents of the book and therein its pages are all preserved, even if the book has turned over a new leaf.

Our preconceived notions of books go for a toss. It’s universal, this feeling, Banoo reveals: men, women and children of all ages are completely intrigued and engaged with the morphology. Banoo elucidates, “I like working with common objects in unusual ways, and making them behave in unexpected ways. The book in its conventional form is a container for narrative ideas, but I focus on the visual and tactile properties of the book and re-imagine it in a different form.” Banoo’s element of surprise, an Aha Effect, stirs fascination. It is a long process to envision the folds and the geometry. The flat book expands with Banoo’s precise folding and unfolding, drawing space out from where there was none, the finished piece about a foot across, seven inches deep and nine inches high.

It all started when Banoo decided to make a gift for her brother, recalling a book sculpture she had seen many years ago. Always fascinated with patterns and sequencing, she evolved her techniques by trial and error, continually experimenting. For Banoo, the motivation is to ‘find the formula’ or crack the code to enable the transformation. The serial sequences of folds she derives in 2D are the mathematics that shape her 3D forms. “Every page is a unit”, she explains. I ask her how many books she has churned out so far. “I don’t keep a count. But I’ve been doing it for three or four years and based on an average, maybe 400 books?” Banoo says casually, the figure thumping my heart, thinking of her nimble fingers folding and her methodical calculations of where and how.

The vintage titles Banoo resurrects are regular hardcover shelf sitters, outmoded literature, which become the Basic Series. Her Plush Books from the Franklin Library series have genuine leather covers embossed with 22-carat gold and are gilt edged. These are premium products enclosed in acrylic cases for safety and long life. Of all her pieces, the Phaneng, which she did for a photographer, is the simplest and the most sacred. “It was a catalogue of beautiful portraits of a remote tribe and I evoked the Buddhist dharma chakra, making eight double parallel folds that I tied together with a string — for friendship and courage. From within, faces peer elusively.” Banoo’s sculptures occupy every available nook in her apartment in Mumbai. Her building is over a hundred years old with units renovated to make contemporary living spaces, the shell faithful to the older structure. One cannot help but compare the parallels: she too is extending the life of many books respecting the form of the old, but paving the way for renewal. Each book, rescued from oblivion, born again, emerges with a new personality and finds a home. Each one is a page-turner.

Banoo’s website: www.booksculptures.in