We see this too often – loads and loads of discarded books in storage rooms, on the sidewalk, even in our homes. Abandoned books are a much too common sight, and at least to me, a depressing sight. This inspired San Francisco-based artist Alexis Arnold to embark on a fascinating quest to make something beautiful – crystallized books.

“The Crystallized Book series was prompted by repeatedly finding boxes of discarded books, by the onset of e-books, and by the shuttering of bookstores”, she told ZME Science in an email. “Additionally, I had been growing crystals on hard objects and was interested in seeing the effect of the crystal growth on porous, malleable objects.”

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Of course, they aren’t technically crystallized books – Alexis uses a super concentrated Borax solution. She boils the thing, allowing more Borax in and then submerging the book in the hot solution, manipulating it in the desired shape and then draining it. Here’s the detailed process, so you can try it out at home. Be careful when handling chemical substances though (especially hot ones) – Borax is not particularly toxic, but sufficient exposure to borax dust can cause respiratory and skin irritation.

“I start by creating a super-saturated solution (ratio of 3 tbl to 1 cup, expanded as needed) of Borax in boiling water. When the water boils, its molecules expand, allowing more Borax in. I submerge the book (or other object) in the hot, saturated solution and carefully manipulate the book to my liking. As the saturated water cools, the molecules shrink and any excess Borax crystallizes. Once the solution has completely cooled and the crystals have grown on the submerged book, I drain the solution and dry the book without disturbing its shape. The books will hold their new, transformed shape when completely dry. The crystals themselves change from translucent to opaque over time depending on atmospheric conditions. This transition can take years or be induced rapidly.”

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This is quite a creative process, and while I was toying around with salt crystals years ago, I never actually thought of doing something like this – and I think the artistic statement is impactful as well.

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“Conceptually, the series addresses the materiality of the book versus the text or content of the book, in addition to commenting on the vulnerability of the printed form. The crystals remove the text and transform the books into aesthetic, non-functional objects. The books, frozen in a myriad of positions by the crystal growth, have become artifacts or geologic specimens imbued with the history of time, use, and nostalgia.”

If you want to see more of Alexis’ works, you can check out the group exhibition at the Esther Klein Gallery within the University City Science Center in Philadelphia, PA. The show runs February 5 – March 20 and includes a fantastic group of artists who use crystals in their artwork in diverse ways. I took a look at some of the works there and I have to admit – I was just blown away. If you’re in the neighborhood, this is definitely not something you want to miss.

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In addition to working with crystals, Alexis is also working hard on new work for a solo show in May at En Em Art Space in Sacramento, CA.

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