Creating a buzz about books – worlds first 'Book Hive' made in Bristol

Issue date: 12 February 2014

Media launch and premier of short film 13 February at 18:30

Public launch Sunday 16 February

Interview with David McGoran, Director of Rusty Squid

Book Hive Flickr Album

Artists, engineers and designers from UWE Bristol have been working with animatronics company Rusty Squid to create the world's first interactive Book Hive installation located in the main entrance of Bristol Central Library.

Visitors have watched in awe as the Book Hive has gradually emerged in situ over the past few months and a media launch to celebrate its completion will be held on 13 February when the final sections of the interactive sculpture will be switched on. Also there will be a unique one off kinetic display that the books will perform in celebration of 400 years of Bristol Libraries.

At the public launch on Sunday 16 February the designers will be available to discuss the story behind the Book Hive with library visitors.

Built with Arts Council funding to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Bristol Central library, the Book Hive draws attention to the place of books and libraries in the digital technology age.

The Book Hive is a modular 'honeycomb' of animatronic books in hexagonal frames that burst to life with the help of movement sensors whenever someone interacts or moves in front of the hive. 400 old hardback books no longer in circulation donated by the central library, UWE Bristol and the University of Bristol have been attached to 400 conjoined and mechanised plywood hexagons to create the hive shape.

Clever application of cameras and sensors positioned above the hive enable the books to come alive in response to movement so when visitors walk past or interact with the installation the books wake up and dance, the pages rustle, the books creak and the hive buzzes with activity.

Up close visitors can smell the magic and enticing aroma of the old pages as they open and close resulting in a totally immersive physical and sensory experience that places the book centre stage.

David McGoran from Rusty Squid, said, “Blending engineering, art and design to create thoughtful art works is what we do at Rusty Squid and we have worked closely with lecturing staff and students at UWE Bristol to help realise the beautiful Book Hive at Bristol Library.

“Every laser cut plywood component has been slotted together without glue or fixings, the precision of the making process is important to us, we wanted to create something blending the hand made with precision tooling yet integrating sophisticated animatronics. Some elements have surprised us as the Book Hive has grown; we did not expect the creaking sound made by the mechanisms that control the book movement and the audio experience is, as it turns out, as exciting as the movement.”

Kyle Hirani, a UWE Bristol Robotics student from Kenya, has taken a sabbatical to work on the Book Hive project with Rusty Squid. He said, “I was introduced to David McGoran by one of the lecturer's on the course and have been involved in the project from the outset. I have helped develop the mechanisms and servo testing that enables the books to move within each hexagon. It's been a fantastic project to work on in terms of creative thinking and hands-on work and it's been amazing.”

Elizabeth Johnson, a UWE Bristol Animation graduate first worked with Rusty Squid for two months on a placement whilst at university. After graduating she kept in touch and volunteered for Rusty Squid at the Bristol Festival of Puppetry and as a result has been employed by Rusty Squid for three months to help make the Book Hive happen.

Elizabeth Johnson said, “I have been helping to build the honeycomb structure and working on the book mechanics. It's been quite a challenge, the assembly of the book hive has many aspects and we have to ensure everything functions properly. It's been very satisfying to concentrate on the making; I focused on stop motion animation at Bristol UWE because I really love the craft of making physical things. This project has just blown me away and I feel privileged to have been part of it and to watch visitors to the library interacting with the Book Hive as it has grown.”

Dr Andrew Batchelor, Programme Leader for Product Design at UWE Bristol, has been advising on design management and processes. He said, “This fantastic project is an inspiration. I've really enjoyed helping out with aspects of the technical design and working with the team on the design process. We are planning to work on more projects with Rusty Squid in the future.”

David McGoran continues “It's been an amazing creative process. Books have traditionally been seen as means of transporting information over space and time but the digital age has changed this forever.

“Our Book Hive has become something of metaphor for the library – visiting the library is a social activity, we are drawn in by the books - but a visit is essentially a collective experience because you never know who you might meet or what you might discover as you meander around.”

Andrew Cox, from Bristol Central Library, said, “The Book Hive is a marvellous, uplifting and inspiring way for us to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Bristol Central Library. Rusty Squid, the team from UWE Bristol and our volunteers have made a huge impact on our visitor experience; they have shown an enormous depth of understanding about the essence of what libraries stand for as places that create a hum in the community. We embrace the digital but we all still love books and the Book Hive is a wonderful blend of art and engineering reminding us of the intrinsic beauty and love affair we have both with books as tangible items and the importance of libraries as valuable social hubs in our communities.”

As people interact with the hive each book opens inviting and enticing and buzzing with excitement and the message that seems to burst from each open book is come in, interact, books are beautiful, a physical experience as well as a cerebral one - hold me and read me.

Experience the wonder of the book hive at Bristol Central Library until 7 March 2014.

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