Destructive Enthusiasm: Melinda Tidwell’s 2013 Portfolio
By BAB Guest Contributor Caitlin Johnson
Melinda Tidwell’s book alteration technique seems to be forged out of a sense of the book, in its object form, as an entirely visual concept. In her emerging 2013 Portfolio, she removes all discernible bodies of text from the books she alters, and in doing so, withdraws the viewer from the books “intended” purpose in the preservation of some knowledge or communication. Tidwell’s books are defaced. The covers of them are torn and whole parts are removed. There is a carelessness to the ripped edges of her removals that lends a simultaneous sense of neglect and, strangely, a freedom to these pieces. Perhaps Tidwell is pointedly conflating these two ideas with her works. Perhaps she “misuses” these books as a means to understand the material of and within them in way that is aggressively tactile, but not deprecating. Much like the way all of our favorite books as children were inevitably worn into barely legible scraps as we read them over and over and over again. It is this destructive aspect of enthusiasm that Tidwell seems to be recreating here.
Tidwell’s work dares adults to do the same. Take those precious books off of your solid oak book shelves and engage them. This seems most evident in her piece, “Bunny and His Shadow.” Tidwell has removed pieces of the original book’s facade in what seems to be an arbitrary or indeterminate method that relegates the cover (an aspect of the book that is perhaps most crucial as a commodity) to abstraction patterned with disparate, geometric images and shapes that do no work whatsoever to indicate what might have been this particular books textual relevance. The playfulness of this piece is pointedly referenced in its title. The simple illustration of the bunny and the hint of its shadow that Tidwell uncovers further presses the viewer to engage this piece as the artifact of use, of engagement, of the book at the fulfillment of its “useful” lifespan. The beauty of Tidwell’s work is that we as adults are forced to reckon with our treatment of books as precious, sacred objects. But what Tidwell knows, what every kid that has ever dragged their books around with them everywhere, is that to really know something and to really love something, you have to make as much of a mark on it as it has made on you.