New ‘tower of books’ sculpture by Cathy de Monchaux celebrates education and research

Cathy de Monchaux, the Turner Prize-nominated sculptor, has created a new public artwork for Newnham College, celebrating the College’s tradition of learning and research.

The 35-foot-tall bronze sculpture, Beyond thinking, shows a vertical column of open books set into the fabric of the building. Instead of words, a vine-like structure is embedded in the pages. The spine of each open book holds a female figure gazing out at the world. The sculpture is positioned at the entrance to the College’s new Dorothy Garrod building, and is the first thing that students and visitors will see.

The artist’s inspiration for the sculpture came from Virginia Woolf’s essay ‘A Room of One’s Own’ (1929), itself based upon a lecture given by Woolf to the students of Newnham and Girton Colleges in 1928. The essay explores the conditions that can promote women’s creativity: one of them being the freedom to gaze out on the world, to stand still, think and dream.

Says Cathy de Monchaux: ‘I find in my own creative process, when I am somehow overfilled by my thoughts and confused about how to move forward, I can only unravel what I am trying to create when I find a way to stand back and draw breath. It is the hardest thing to arrive at – a condition where you have so much in your mind that you become for a moment ‘beyond thinking’ – and somehow, an answer or inspiration of how to move forward in an idea comes to you. It is not a condition you can manufacture, as Virginia Woolf explained. For women, it was a question of having the right social and educational conditions to allow the space for inspirational thought to grow.’

In commissioning de Monchaux – known for her intricate and psychologically complex sculptures – to create an artwork for the new building, Newnham College gave the artist full creative freedom.

Professor Jenny Morton, chair of Newnham College’s Art Strategy Group, explains: ‘Newnham has always been a College willing to take risks and put our faith in outstanding women. We trusted Cathy completely, and gave her free rein to create a sculpture that would represent the College’s future without losing touch with the past. What mattered was to have the artist’s vision, rather than a sculpture designed by committee.’



For further press information, please contact Tamsin Starr, University Communications Office, 01223 332300