It was a pleasure working with Singapore Art Museum on a series of bookbinding workshops from Jan 2015 to Mar 2015.
The series of three monthly workshops drew inspiration from the 15 art pieces showcased in the museum as part of the Asia Pacific Breweries (APB) Foundation Signature Art Prize 2014 exhibition. The art prize was started by APB Foundation in 2007 and is held triennially. The current 2014 exhibition is the third edition.
Selected by a panel of five eminent judges from around the region, the 15 finalists were chosen from a total of 105 nominated artworks from 24 countries and territories. The contemporary artworks represent the very best of the region, and come from 13 diverse countries and territories including Australia, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.
As part of the exhibition’s outreach, bookbinding workshops were conducted to incorporate the interpretation of these contemporary artworks into the traditional art of making a book by hand. Each workshop focused on a traditional bookbinding technique like Japanese Stab Binding and Coptic Binding. The end product, however required each participant to be creative and to base their book on the interpretation of the workshop theme and the selected pieces of artwork.
For the first workshop, participants worked on a unique scroll-like cover for their Japanese Stab Binding book based on the theme of “Twist”. The book form drew inspiration from the artworks Letters From a Distance (Peng Wei, China), Kahani Eik Shehr Ki (Farida Batool, Pakistan), In Pursuit of Venus (Lisa Reihana, NZ) and I’m a Ghost in My Own House (Melati Suryodarmo, Indonesia). All these artworks demonstrated an element of surprise and twist in the interpretation of their material (i.e. charcoal, wallpaper) the expression and manipulation of the artwork / technology (i.e. lenticular print and chinese scrolls and boxes)
The scroll book recollected the progress of the book from beginning from carved surfaces to bound scrolls and finally to printed books. The book can be bundled up just like a scroll, but is bound with pieces of paper laid flat to accommodate easy writing and reading.
Control (or the lack thereof)
Control is an essential part of art. Each artist gain mastery of their craft by manipulating their materials, expressions or even mindsets in different ways. There is of course forms of control which are external (e.g. regulation) and also internal (paradigm). The artwork Unsubtltied (Nguyen Trinh Thi, Vietnam) is a commentary of the state’s control over artistic expression by getting artists to articulate what they are eating and to allow the viewer to observe them doing so; while Infinite Love (Owen Leong, Australia) challenges the viewer to see eating not as a pleasurable activity but one which can be disturbing and involuntary. Both these artwork use food as an analogy for their messages.
In a similar way, food also features in Custos Cavum (Choe U-Ram, Korea). The form, a worm-like creature with tendrils extending vertical, was inspired by the herb，Cordyceps. The graceful, coordinated movement of the metal contraception gives a sense of life in the creature, showing the mastery of the artist over an unwieldy material like industrial steel and motors.
Participants of the bookbinding workshop were also challenged to create paintings on their book covers using unfamiliar art tools such as sponges, skewers and chopsticks. The exercise allowed them to lose some control over their painting but in the process, learn to manipulate their new tools in new ways. The expression can be unexpected like the work Trace (Liu Jianhua, China) which occupied the spiral staircase in the museum’s rotunda.
The theme of urban life is a common one among the finalists. The following artworks traces urban development through different time periods using a variety of artefacts, for example Golden Teardrop (Arin Rungjang, Thailand) traced the origins of the popular snack thong yod which was brought into the kingdom by a Portuguese-Bengali-Japanese woman during the 17th century. Rankin Street (Naeem Mohaiemen, Bangladesh) on the other hand, looks at a set of photographs taken by the artist’s father in their old house in Dhaka. The photographs are manipulated to juxtaposes the domestic setting against the decades of turmoil in South Asia (Partition in the 1950s and the independence of Bangladesh in 1971).
The absurdity of modern life is also captured in two artworks, namely Mirage – Disued Public Property in Taiwan (Yao Jui Chung, Taiwan) and House of Opaque Water (Ranbir Kaleka, India). The former traces the excess of development in the island while the latter talks about the destructive force of rising sea level brought about by global development.
Urban Life in the bookbinding workshop was conceived as layers. The skyline can be interpreted as a layered form with tiers of buildings of different heights, age and functions (e.g. shophouse to skyscrapers to HDB estates, etc). Layers can also be expressed through the manipulation of the materials, cupboard and paper, to create a 3D object that is exquisite and intricate. Coptic Binding is chosen for its versatility in binding elements of different shapes and sizes together. The variety of works completed by the participants definitely proved the potential of the binding technique in creating creative and contemporary works!
Click here to see more photographs of the workshop series and learn how a traditional art form like bookbinding can give rise to new, unexpected interpretations of artworks by exemplary Asian artists.