You've read the book, now see the...art installation?

What happens when you challenge artists to create work inspired by new Canadian books? Check out pictures from Sculpting New Reads.

See what happens when you challenge artists to create work inspired by new Canadian books

Author Ron Sexsmith speaks to a crowd at Toronto's Word on the Street. They're viewing an installation created by Nicholas Crombach that is inspired by Sexsmith's 2017 book, Deer Life. (Courtesy of Labspace Studio)

Books get turned into movies, TV shows, ballets, even concept albums. (Blessed be the fruit, The Handmaid's Tale alone been adapted into all four!) But what about an art installation?

That's the premise behind Sculpting New Reads, the annual art show at Toronto's Word on the Street Festival. The latest edition wrapped this weekend at Harbourfront Centre, and like past years, the challenge was this: Word on the Street makes a list of the fall season's most anticipated CanLit titles, then curators (Labspace Studio) match each of those books with a different local artist — a sculptor or video artist or painter, etc. whose practice is already exploring the themes seen in the book. Given just three months to re-imagine the text, their work is unveiled on festival day to the public — the authors included.

Laura Mendes of Toronto's Labspace Studio has curated the project with her partner John Loerchner since it launched in 2014. "We're really trying to push the old idiom, I guess — a picture is worth a thousand words," she laughs.

By that logic, the word count of the average book merits an interactive art installation, at the very least, and this year's list includes a collection of poetry (Closer to Where We Began by Lisa Richter), a novel about a Bolivian soldier living in exile in Montreal (Red, Yellow, Green by Alejandro Saravia), a non-fiction investigation of residential school deaths (Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga) and the literary debut of one of Canada's most celebrated singer-songwriters (Deer Life by Ron Sexsmith). 

Artists Alize Zorlutuna, Sage Paul, Nicholas Crombach and Marian Wihak were asked to adapt those works into original art installations. Their only instructions: be inspired by the text.

We're really trying to push the old idiom, I guess — a picture is worth a thousand words.- Laura Mendes, curator

"I think my favourites are projects that surprise me," says Mendes — and the most intriguing pieces find a way of imagining a theme, or even a character, in ways you'd never see on the page.

But then, the artists are working with brand new releases, so unless every visitor works for a publishing house, they've never even had the chance to read these books before. It makes the show more like an experiential book blurb — although Mendes says "the next big step" for Sculpting New Reads is a retrospective show, which would compile work from past years.

Several featured titles are now familiar to Canadian readers. Last year's edition featured Mona Awad's 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, which was shortlisted for the Giller, and Guy Gavriel Kay's national bestseller Children of Earth and Sky.

"The project is ultimately about promoting authors, promoting these books and providing a new way of getting people to be interested in literature," she explains. "I hope that [viewers] will, for one, be inspired by this work and inspired by the work of the artists, but also that the work inspires them to pick up the book."

Check out selections from Sculpting New Reads, past and present.

Book: Deer Life by Ron Sexsmith (2017). Artist: Nicholas Crombach. (Courtesy of Labspace Studio)
Book: Closer to Where We Began by Lisa Richter (2017). Artist: Marian Wihak. (Courtesy of Labspace Studios)
Detail of Marian Wihak's Sculpting New Reads art installation. The piece is based on the debut collection of poetry from Lisa Richter, Closer to Where We Began. (Courtesy of Labspace Studios)
Detail of Marian Wihak's contrubution to Sculpting New Reads, 2017. (Courtesy of Labspace Studios)
Book: Red, Yellow, Green by Alejandro Saravia (2017). Artist: Alize Zorlutuna. (Courtesy of Labspace Studios)
Book: Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga (2017). Artist: Sage Paul. (Courtesy of Labspace Studios)
Detail of Sage Paul's piece for Sculpting New Reads. Paul is the co-founder of the Setsuné Indigenous Fashion Incubator. (Courtesy of Labspace Studio)
Book: Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay (2016). Artist: W.W. Hung. (Courtesy of Labspace Studio)
Book: Cauchemar by Alexandra Girgorescu (2015). Artist: Hoda Zarbaf (Courtesy of Labspace Studio)
Detail of Hoda Zarbaf's 2015 piece for Sculpting New Reads. (Courtesy of Labspace Studio)
Book: Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt (2015). Artist: Steve Newberry (Courtesy of Labspace Studio)
Book: 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl (2016). Artist: Shannon Scanlan (Courtesy of Labspace Studio)
Book: The Troop by Nick Cutter (2014). Artist: Mark Prier. (Courtesy of Labspace Studio)
Book: Walt by Russell Wangersky (2014). Artist: Layne Hinton (Courtesy of Labspace Studio)
A peek inside Layne Hinton's 2014 installation for Sculpting New Reads, a piece based on Walt by Russell Wangersky. (Courtesy of Labspace Studio)

About the Author

Leah Collins

Leah Collins is the Senior Writer at CBC Arts.

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