British artist Abigail Reynolds was selected for the third BMW Art Journey. Her project “The Ruins of Time: Lost Libraries of the Silk Road” will take her to China, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Iran, Italy and Egypt.
Abigail Reynolds’ artistic practice is closely linked to books and libraries. Having studied English literature at Oxford University, she frequently draws inspiration from books to imagine places and moments from the past, present and future. Libraries inform the conceptual framework of her work, which investigates communal forms of identities and socio-political power structures, and many of the materials she uses also derive from libraries. Given this deep connection to libraries and literature, it is no surprise that Reynolds’ BMW Art Journey project for 2017, “The Ruins of Time: Lost Libraries of the Silk Road,” is designed to allow her to connect the complex religious and secular narratives of Europe and Asia and to expand her current interests and working methods through a prolonged multi-continent series of visits to historic and fabled repositories of books.
The artist will trace as many as sixteen sites of libraries lost to political conflicts, looters, natural catastrophes, and war. Their tragedies date all the way back to 291 BC and to as recently as 2011. The journey will take her along the trajectory of the ancient Silk Road, which she will approach in two stages, starting from the Eastern and the Western end points, then travelling inwards as far as today’s conflict zones allow.
Conceptually, Abigail Reynolds intends to explore blanks and voids, with the library symbolising the impossibility of encompassing all knowledge—lost libraries even more so. “The research I have done towards this journey privileges the known,” the artist stated in her proposal for the Art Journey, “but it will bring me to question what we understand as knowledge. I do not want to embark on a history lesson, but on a philosophical journey.”
Along the way, Reynolds, an avid collector of books and images, will gather representations in various forms: 3D scans, photography, microscope imagery, written text, plans or cataloguing systems. Based on this extensive research, she intends to create a cluster of book forms, prints, collages, and 16mm film, the latter being her first attempt to work in this medium. Images, texts, and other documents originating from the experience will, after its conclusion, be included in a book—thus completing a journey that both starts and ends with the institution of the library.
In a joint statement, the five-member international jury said about their unanimous selection: “Abigail Reynolds submitted a monumental, poetic, and memorable proposal. Her articulate project links the contemporary to ancient history by researching destroyed libraries, a phenomenon that has continued for thousands of years. Her journey will take her along segments of the Silk Road, which has not lost any of its political and cultural resonance. It will be fascinating to see where this ambitious journey—which is so thoroughly rooted in her practice of translating literary materials into visual language—will take her, both physically and creatively.”