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Notes on a Formula

Winter 2011
Winter 2011
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Paul Wong is Artistic Director of Dieu Donné Papermill in New York City. A master papermaker, Wong has collaborated with numerous artists such as Chuck Close, Richard Tuttle, Jim Hodges, Ursula Von Rydingsvard, and Louise Bourgeois, producing groundbreaking work in the creative papermaking medium for over 33 years. He has been awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, and the Joan Mitchell Foundation. Wong has widely exhibited his work in paper, books, and installations since 1975 at museums and galleries including Neuberger Museum, Plains Museum, Columbia College Center for Book and Paper Arts, and Dieu Donné.  THE PRACTICE: It's about a procedure one develops over time, step by step to finagle an image, to refract facets of an internalized vision. An unconscious spark that urges one to seek and reroute the map in one's mind. The objective on the surface is to lead into the interior of each paper made, push out, and interpret its inherent references. The endeavor is successful when the embedded information and what comes together read and align as a dialogue between a coincidence of contour and a dissection of iconography.  

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An unveiling of polarities—power and submission, high and low culture, religion vs. state, life and death. the backstory Putting together the puzzle pieces: being an artist-papermaker for over three decades; born in Fargo, North Dakota but ethnically Chinese; the fact of paper's invention in China; growing up without a sense of identity, lost in a Midwestern town; making it a priority to reconstruct an impression of my own Asian diaspora; rediscovering the unrealized self, work that begun in 1995 and seemingly goes on…. the structure The paper initiates a discourse. It is a prepared ground of premise upon which I cobble together a selection of images: I gather, edit, cut, and transfer them onto the paper to complete the whole composition. The eight-hour-beaten abaca fiber is a translucent gauze that traps messages to the dead. I search New York's Chinatown for paper joss "made in China" in herbal and grocery stores. Available everywhere for general consumption, it is burned in reverence to one's deceased ancestors. I partially burn the paper joss into fragments before incorporating them into the work. The ink printed on these amulets, blessings, and offerings is fugitive and bleeds when embedded in the papermaking process, revealing a ghost-like world with its residual blur. This strategy has evolved during various projects: flat works, wallpaper, books, and sculptural components operating in site-specific installations, to define a story. The procedure spreads out into space. the rubbing Images are solvent-transferred with lacquer thinner and rubbed by hand. The lexicon is made up of photocopies gleaned during research into Chinese art and history; collected materials; a gathering of images from books, ephemera, and photographs, appropriated and merged into interpretive narratives. The hand-transfer process using solvent and a bone burnisher is, for me, analogous to the process of ink rubbings of Chinese stone steles onto paper. The paper absorbs the content of materiality that interfaces with the imprint of hand-scribed graphics. The skin (paper) and the impression (graphic alignment) merge as a new kind of work in and on paper. The past moves into the present to comment on death in traditional Chinese terms and the socio-political issues of modern China. My interest in death filtered through the work is not morbid but rather a fascination with the afterlife that remains as mysterious today as it has been since the wake of mankind. Now in cult-ridden 2011, aspects of the world's end and the continuing human corruption of the planet also require comment. A conflict to ponder: making paper by hand vs. twenty-first-century technology. ___________ bibliography V. R. Burkhardt, Chinese Creeds and Customs (London: Kegan Paul Ltd., 2006). Roderick Cave, Chinese Paper Offerings (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1998). Dard Hunter, Chinese Ceremonial Paper (Chillicothe, OH: The Mountain House Press, 1937).