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ROKEBY, Art Basel and BMW unveil an installation of work made in response to the epic journey undertaken by British artist Abigail Reynolds, winner of the BMW Art Journey 2016.

The Ruins of Time: Lost Libraries of the Silk Road showcased at the BMW Lounge of Art Basel in Hong Kong 2017 is a body of work completed by Reynolds in response to a five-month-long journey of exploration she took into the complex religious and secular narratives of Europe and Asia.

Reynolds’ artistic practice is closely linked to books and libraries. Having studied English Literature at Oxford University she frequently draws from literature and book forms, which she uses as both sites of research and source material. This led the artist to conceive a journey that involved a series of visits to historic and fabled repositories of books.

During the journey, Reynolds traced and documented sixteen sites of libraries lost to political conflicts, natural catastrophes and war dating from 291 BC to 2011 including China, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Egypt, Italy and Iran. At each site she gathered material in various forms including written text and 16mm film.

Exploring blanks and voids, she positions the library as a symbol of the impossibility of encompassing all knowledge. The installation includes an ordering system that mirrors that of the library shelf; a container for collections of thoughts and narratives spanning the globe and human time. Titled Set alight, abandoned, cancelled, cut, forgotten (i,ii & iii), the works contain fragments and layered obscurities which take different modes to honour the diversity of book forms encountered by the artist across the libraries the artist visited.

Throughout the library sites visited, Reynolds captured details on 16mm colour Kodak film. Fragments of these are seen here for the first time. Reynolds transposes the layered denials, distortions and mis-readings of the lost libraries upon the housed objects. Complete access is withheld, images are distorted and the act of looking, and therefore reading, is slowed down.

Floor based works are named after the stone books or stelae - tall angled walls of Chinese characters - which the artist encountered in Xi’an. Stelae ii holds negative shapes in reference to the rolled papyri lost at many of the ancient library sites. Following the Silk Road through China into Uzbekistan the artist was repeatedly confronted with screens. The screen is an intermediary. It creates the other and keeps it present; it reveals yet blocks, fragmenting the gaze.

“As I journeyed, the screens that repeatedly presented themselves to me became a sort of metaphor for my pilgrimage to these emptied sites. They point to what’s hidden but guessed at. One imagines beyond personal experience - imagining beyond the screen. It is perhaps obvious that I lived in Oxford for a decade, fully aware of Lewis Carroll’s ’Through the Looking Glass’”.

Images, texts and other documents originating from the experience will be included in a book published by BMW and Hatje Cantz in autumn of 2017 – thus completing a journey that both starts and ends with the institution of the library.

Abigail Reynolds lives in St Just and has a studio in St Ives, Cornwall. She graduated from Goldsmiths University, London in 2002 following degrees at Chelsea College of Art and Design, London and Oxford University, Oxford. Last year her work was included in the inaugural Yinchuan Biennial. Her work is owned by the Government Art Collection, London, Yale University Art Gallery, Yale, the New York Public Library, New York and numerous important private collections.

Reynolds is the third BMW Art Journey winner and will be the second artist to unveil her work at Art Basel’s Hong Kong show, following work by previous winner Samson Young, which debuted at the 2016 edition. The international jury selected her unanimously from a shortlist of three artists whose works were exhibited in the Discoveries sector at Art Basel in Hong Kong 2016. The members of the jury were Richard Armstrong, Director Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Claire Hsu, Director Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong; Matthias Mühling, Director Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich; Bose Krishnamachari, President Kochi-Muziris Biennale, India; and Pauline J. Yao, Curator Visual Art M+, Hong Kong. The BMW Art Journey is a global collaboration between Art Basel and BMW, created to recognise and support emerging artists worldwide.

Read a recent conversation between Abigail Reynolds and Sam Gaskin here.

For further information about the journey, click here.

BMW Art Journey - Interview with Abigail Reynolds on Vimeo.