Warped Sculptures Suspend Novels, Guidebooks, and Other Print Objects in Borax Crystals

Source Colossal  

“Highway 1 California: The dream along the Pacific” (2021). All images © Alexis Arnold, shared with permission

For more than a decade, Alexis Arnold has been intrigued by the evolving nature of print. Her ongoing collection, titled Crystallized Books, transforms novels, guides, and maps into gleaming sculptures that consider how we value and use objects. “While I started the series in 2011 partly as a reaction to the vulnerability of printed media, it’s been nice to see a return to the cultural value of printed media while working on the series over the past 12 years. It’s also been interesting (and at times technically frustrating) to see the quality of book printing and binding decline as I’ve been working on the series,” she says.

To create the works, the Oakland-based artist (previously) submerges found volumes into a hot bath of water and borax. “When water boils, its molecules expand, and as the saturated water cools again, the molecules shrink and any excess borax crystallizes,” Arnold tells Colossal. Out of the pools come books coated with dense, translucent clusters that stabilize the objects as warped, crinkled mounds.

Because the crystals make the text difficult—or impossible—to parse, the books in the series become notable for their materiality. Many of the titles Arnold works with have cultural or personal importance, like To Kill a Mockingbird or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, while others reference the waning relevance of print. Field guides and maps are often available online, for example, making a book less necessary but also more precious as a relic of times past.

Read more about Arnold’s practice and peruse an archive of her projects on her site and Instagram.


Detail of “Poems” (2023)

“Audubon rock and mineral field guide” (2019)

“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” (2020)

“Smithsonian rock and mineral guide” (2019)

“To Kill a Mockingbird” (2021)

“Islamic Maps” (2022)

“Tai Pan” (2020)

“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (2021)

“To Kill a Mockingbird” (2021)

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