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Submitted by Editor on

There’s something intensely intimate about books. Especially old ones. 

That agreeable memory of ink and leather, polish, damp and slight decay. That moment of literally burying one’s nose in the gutter. Of being engrossed. Of witnessing the object’s gradual disintegration between one’s fingers, encountering spines, discovering that they too sometimes consist of words drawn from earlier printed sources.

Edinburgh-based visual artist Jo McDonald delves deep into just such territory in work showing this month at McNaughtan’s Bookshop (Fringe Venue 102).

She aims to deconstruct books from their fabric and make new structures; ones which recombine in new forms part of her own being and memories with both the texts' meanings and the physical traces of their past readers.

In doing so she uses traditional tapestry-weaving methods, but with paper rather than wools or threads.

What emerge are wonderfully organic and beguiling objects, mortal coils and bundled associations which combine three-dimensional charm, emotional charge, and thoughtful suggestiveness.

Ultimately, they explore also history, storytelling, and the fragile physical bodies through which ideas and cultures and genes are transmitted.

McDonald says that several of the works are celebrations of her late father: his love of Burns and books and Scottish music. And obviously, too, they deal with his place in her life and affections.

But paradoxically, these disembodied tomes and staves are very far from being open books. 

They adumbrate rather than anatomise. The texts are for the most part now unreadable. McDonald’s techniques are hidden from view. Her Gordian and Ariadnean threads plunge at the last from view, preserving their mysteries.

I find these works mysterious and very moving. Take time to linger over them.  AM

Jo McDonald’s The Collection continues at McNaughtan’s Bookshop, 3a–4a Haddington Place, until 30 August. For more about the artist, visit: