Orly Orbach





2006 - IMAGES 30

Orly Orbach specialises in creating open books and narrative environments. She is interested in giving stories physicality, tactility and a presence in the landscape. Her work ranges from handmade illustrations and prints to large-scale public artworks, and often explores ways of bringing stories to life through interactive and participatory processes.

Graduating from the Royal College of Art in 2003, she works with museums, galleries, libraries, theatre companies and councils across the UK. Amongst her clients are The British Museum, the South Bank Centre, London Transport Museum, Serpentine Gallery, Museums Sheffield, Bronte Parsonage Museum, Keats House, South London Gallery, the William Morris Gallery, Arts Awards and various councils around the UK. 


BRIEF: Burnt Book Box is an ethereal series of sequential illustrations composed of ink drawings and burn marks. It was produced in response to the brief 'Message in a Matchbox', part of an arts-and-health programme that sought to use creative routes to improve public health, aimed at audiences that are already desensitised to anti-smoking adverts.

MATERIALS: Ink drawings on paper with burn marks.

RESEARCH: My sources of inspiration were Boticceli's illustrations to Dante's inferno and the nursery rhyme 'there one was a lady that swallowed a fly'.

I initially considered making a series of salvaged pages of a burnt diary of a smoker, and carried out a lot of research about the experience and history of smoking. I read a very interesting book called 'This is Nicotine' by Karen Farrington, went on online forums and consulted friends. Once I became familiar with the subject, I decided to use myth and metaphor to convey the feeling of becoming addicted to smoking, and make the artwork more metaphysical.

The final artwork is a surreal cautionary tale. The main character inhales a 'tar-fly'.  At first the images are clean and clear, but soon deteriorate as the protagonist is enslaved by tar flies that reside in her lungs and grow in size and number, as the burn marks take over the page.

PROCESS: The process of drawing with fire was incredibly fun and dangerous. I enjoyed handcrafting the images, and combining my deliberate and careful drawings with the traces of fire left on the burnt pages. It was a game of chance and control. I accidentally burnt some good illustrations along the way.

RESISTANCES: The joy of the project was working with fire. It felt like a collaboration between me and a force beyond my control that I was responding to. By the end I learned to protect the drawing by brushing water over it prior to burning, and controlling the way the page burns.

INSIGHT: It's important to be enchanted by the production process.

DISTRACTIONS: When Radio 4 programmes are too interesting.

NUMBERS: Burnt Book Box was commissioned by Cannock Chase council in partnership with Cannock Chase Primary Health Trust. The project was part of 'Reality Check' - a series of arts-and-health projects in community settings that tested the efficacy of using creative routes to improve public health. This pilot project evaluated the impact of the artwork on different audiences, and measured quantitative details such as the time audiences spent looking at the work. It was all very scientific and it felt weird to have my artwork evaluated and analysed into graphs and pie-charts.

FINAL THOUGHTS:  This was the first commission I received after graduating, and also the first time I submitted work to the AOI. Winning the Gold Award was a great surprise and the experience helped me gain confidence in my work as I was starting out and trying to establish my creative practice.

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