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Artist constructs Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from pulped Dan Brown books

28 Oct 2023 4 minute read
David Shrigley with his Pulped Fiction installation in Swansea. Ben Birchall/PA Wire

Artist David Shrigley has created 1,000 new editions of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from pulped second-hand copies of The Da Vinci Code, for a pop-up installation in Swansea.

He said that George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is “really important” today while discussing his decision to create the limited edition copies of the 1949 dystopian novel from Dan Brown’s bestseller.

The book store pop-up is taking place at the Oxfam charity shop in Swansea that made headlines in 2017 after it asked customers to stop donating copies of the Da Vinci Code due to the amount they had been given.

Speaking on the significance of Orwell’s dystopian novel and why it forms part of the art project, Shrigley said: “I think it’s (the book) really important in that people in every sort of political climate project meaning onto it, and over the years it’s sort of meant different things to different people…

“I mean, George Orwell, I think, always intended it to be a warning, it wasn’t necessarily a parable of an existing state, but it was kind of a warning of what can happen when we don’t value our democracy.

“We don’t have to think too hard about the way that our current society is ordered to see some parallels.”

Ministry of Truth

Shrigley said that the process of pulping the books to form something new was a “very direct reference” to the Ministry of Truth, the workplace of protagonist Winston Smith whose job involves rewriting historical documents.

The novel came out of copyright in 2021 and Shrigley cited this as the main reason behind his choice to use the book in his project.

The artist said that Pulped Fiction is “certainly not a piece of literary criticism” and mentioned that both of the books “presented themselves” to him “in different ways, for different reasons”.

He also said that a series of “strange coincidences” had linked the project to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The artist said: “The narrative of this project is one that sort of happened by accident…

“But there seem to be so many things that have happened in this project that are strange coincidences.”

He explained: “Getting a book designer involved. It turned out that the book designer’s grandfather proofread the original Nineteen Eighty-Four and then his sister actually proofread this version of it.”

David Shrigley and Phil Broadhurst, from Oxfam, leaf through books as they chat about David’s Pulped Fiction installation in Swansea. Ben Birchall/PA Wire

Strange coincidences

Shrigley added: “That was just one of many very strange coincidences, and sort of odd things that happened along the way.

“The paper mill we used burned down, for example, which was quite difficult to deal with.”

Some of the limited edition books will be available for sale at Oxfam Books & Music, Swansea, during the weekend starting October 28, with remaining copies sold online after the event.

Each book in the edition has been signed and numbered by Shrigley and fragments of the original novels remain on the paper.

Alongside the book, the artist is releasing a 40-minute documentary telling the story of how the project came to be and the hurdles his studio faced along the way, from Covid 19 lockdown to the now burned down papermill he had partnered with.

During the launch weekend there will be free hourly screenings of the documentary at Swansea’s Volcano Theatre.

David Shrigley: Pulped Fiction is taking place from October 28-29 at Oxfam Books and Music, Swansea, Wales.

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Sarah Good
Sarah Good
6 months ago

Controversially perhaps, I enjoyed the DaVinci Code for what it was. A dumb, summer holiday read. Whereas I found 1984 to be a worthy, but bleak, largely uninspiring and frankly overrated read. I mean take Groupthink. It’s always been a thing. More so in the age of newspapers, exponentially more so in the age of social media. And much beloved of authoritarians and fraudulent kleptocrats. Thank you George, but what else is new? “What’s that? Prophetic you say? Well the world already knew about Caesar, and Henry VIII and the RC church and Stalin and Robespierre and Hitler and quite… Read more »

Last edited 6 months ago by Sarah Good
Philip Davies
Philip Davies
6 months ago
Reply to  Sarah Good

I’m afraid it seems obvious to me that George Orwell was at least considerably more interesting than David Shrigley, whose labours seem, frankly, pointless. (Neatly opportunistic inclusion of the ridiculous Leftist libel that Churchill was a war-criminal, by the way!)

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