Artist Zhang Xiaodong spends his time at his studio in Beijing recreating a lost Chinese bookbinding art.
The art can be traced back over 1,000 years to the Tang dynasty where dragon scale bookbinding was once reserved for the very wealthy and privileged of the Chinese people. Each piece was original and exquisitely hand made and passed down from generation to generation of royalty and the wealthier families.
Very few of the original books can be found today which prompted Zhang to look into the process and attempt to recreate it. Zhang found himself taking a more scientific approach to his artwork in an effort to recreate an exquisite piece just like the original artists did.
Zhang Xiaodong is the first artist to attempt this lost art for a long while according to the Art Central exhibition’s curator, Ying Kwok:
“When there is a slight movement in the air, (the pages) flow, giving life to the book itself,” Kwok told CNN in a phone interview. “This makes the whole experience of reading a book three-dimensional.”
Zhang’s recently recreated the classic Chinese novel Dream of the Red Chamber. The book of 230 Qing Dynasty artist Sun Wen images was painstakingly reimagined as a dragon scale bookbinding by combining ancient folding and cutting techniques, as well as ingenious use of modern technology.
Zhang visited old Chinese towns to find materials traditionally used in bookbinding, such as rice paper, bamboo, silk and wood. The trickiest but most important part of the dragon scale binding process is the precise placement of each page. A complete picture is only achieved when each sheet is placed in exactly the right place- just one hundredth of a centimetre out of place and the whole book is ruined.
Both artist and curator hope that this recreation of an ancient art, along with using modern techniques, will help preserve the Chinese traditions and heritage.
There is nothing more heartwarming than knowing bookmaking and storytelling are still integral parts of culture and tradition in parts of the world.