Giving discarded books a new shelf life

Paris based American Artist Rachel Marks creates powerful installations to address social and environmental issues and saves books from landfill.

Rachel Marks (above), is an American artist and performer living and working in Paris, France. Having moved permanently from Oklahoma, USA more than ten years ago to France, her work now includes installations, performances, sculptures, paintings and drawings throughout her adopted home and throughout the rest of Europe. When not creating new instillations, she teaches Art part-time at the prestigious Parsons Paris, The New School.

With a background in dance performing for the Oklahoma City Ballet, and a BFA from Oklahoma State University, Rachel moved to Paris in 2010 to study at the l’Ecole Supérieure d’Art et Design of Grenoble France, where she received an MFA in 2013. Combining her talents she transposes her performances and installations, using dance as a foundation for her artistic expression.

"My work looks at the relationship between nature and humanity. Art is a powerful way to reach people because it can touch one's emotions and educate and change perspectives.”

Seeing art as a powerful tool to address social issues and environmental concerns, she believes art is not solely for aesthetic admiration, but can be used as an effective communicative tool to evoke new conservations and awareness about what is happening within the disparity of people and nature, as both jurisdiction for more space on an already fragile and overpopulated planet.

We all now bear the knowledge and burden of how all of this is turning out. Humans are dominating nature and sentient beings with dire consequences; our mother earth groans and sends us a message showing us our selfish ways in the manifestation of accelerated droughts, fires, flooding, sea level rise and soil erosion - all consequences of human induced #climatechange. And now too we have Covid-19.

“We need to be more in touch with nature to preserve what we have left and the process of transforming them into a new environment and mirroring the culture of the people that live within it.”

Photo: Rachel Mark

As an artist, Rachel’s main focus is the forest, bringing #discardedbooks back to their natural source, and #upcycling books aimed for landfill and turning them into art, she fulfils a personal crusade to bring awareness of this issue, alongside viewer participation once the work is finished. And indeed, each discarded book finds a new lease of life within the artistic expression of her work, both pages and stories shared.

“I like to invite the viewer directly into a piece of work I’ve created. The transformation of the books to a tree installation or sculpture holds the story of the books used, of the people that owned them, and the stories being told within them”

ESOHPROMATEM: Paper Tree installation by Rachel Marks at Change Now Summit 2020 | Grand Palais, Paris | | Photo: François Xavier Watine

Commissioned to create a climate art instillation for the Summit, Rachel created a 100ft paper tree and sunflower installation made from thousands of found, discarded and therefore saved-from-landfill books. Standing majestically at the entrance of the Grand Palais, the paper tree installation drew attention to the FUKUSHIMA nuclear disaster in Japan. The sunflowers in the installation symbolise the healing power of nature, and the vital environmental role these beautiful flowers contribute to repairing the lands in and surrounding the nuclear disaster area.

Over 8 million sunflowers were planted in the contaminated areas, as sunflowers are hyper-accumulators, meaning they natural absorb poisonous toxins from contaminated soil through their root. Public participation is a crucial part of Rachel’s message and viewers will find themselves with a new book or creating a hidden message to be hung on the works as part of the installation

My goal as an artist is to bring public awareness to nature’s complexity and beauty in order to promote environmental preservation and conservation”.

Like every profession, artists, mostly self-employed have been seen much of their work opportunities, exhibitions, performances dry up or cancelled, due to the Covid-19 crisis.

Currently Rachel is working on a new art projects exploring the anatomy of the tree and the human body, uncovering how the covid-19 pandemic may have affected the body as an environment. During lockdown she has made a series of natural diary books, small book sculptures made of natural materials to document her isolation, emotions and the changes taking place.

And finally...Rachel Marks why and how are you a Sustainable Diva?

“Sustainability is the main message of my work! I also strive to be a wonderful role model for the people that are involved in my works. I would say that my "diva-ness" comes from me stubbornly never giving up, always pushing my limits both physically and emotionally! I’m working hard to inspire others to creatively reflect about our planet”.

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