From its origins (A.D. 618 – 908) as a utilitarian object to its multitude of roles today as canvas, journal, artifact, and more, the Chinese folding book presented the world with a more democratic opportunity to dive into any creative process including writing, drawing, documenting, and other practices.
As the folding book became more commonplace, it touched the hands of many, circulating beyond boundaries and into households, contributing to the expansion of the idea of the individual: the individual as artist and maker.
By using the Chinese folding book as a canvas, the commonplace object transforms into a physical connector of people, through encounters of reading or seeing, the folding book becomes a symbol of ritual.
“To speak of each work alone would be to take them out of their larger context of the folding book concept and so really, the books exist as a collection, and amongst them are arrays of different personalities,” Mary Husted, the main curator of Open Books says.
“I have always felt that each book is the voice of the artist. The books speak. Sometimes it’s a conversation, sometimes a cacophony of different voices!”
Open Books began in Wales in 2012, asking artists to express themselves within a Chinese folding book. The project has since travelled internationally, growing through boundaries by participating artists, curators, academics, and other critical thinkers.
The collection of works highlights the importance of process-based making, a practice reiterated through an 8-week long pilot project called Open Books Online, that began in mid-2021.
The project responded to the shift of encountering art in the virtual sphere, challenging notions of how we can connect, create, and remain open to new opportunities while being physically restricted.
Open Books Online prioritised cross-cultural collaboration and relationship building, by pairing Ang Xia Yi, Lim Eu Jin, Pangrok Sulap, and Shaman Tearoom with artists from Wales, China, and India.
The international artists that collaborated in this online project include Sue Williams, Maggie James, Valerie Coffin-Price, Chris Bird-Jones, Ruchika Wason Singh, Aidan Myers, Mylo Elliott, Zhang Le, Ivor Davies, and Ren Jie.
Its structure of both requiring communicating online and creating offline offered these artist partnerships the opportunity to connect in-depth, exchange ideas, and learn about alternative creative disciplines.
The result of Open Books Online is a collection of digital works that challenge the limitations of the folding book and its production through unconventional means.
By originating artworks in the virtual sphere, the artworks themselves explore the issue of translating an experience from digital to physical for Buka Buku and the fundamental relationship between context and material.
The evolution of the folding book from physical to digital marked a turning point in Open Books’ journey, further echoing The Godown’s own values of collaboration, education, and innovation.
On view is a collection of visual anecdotes and expressions, each addressing themes that include identity and society, material and process, daily life and observations, environments, and patterns. Each one is distinct and tackles unique issues, but when experienced together, reflects a global community of voices in one space.
As the world reopens, Buka Buku prompts that we too should open ourselves to new possibilities and encounters. In this case, the array of works on display that have been stretched at length to reveal their minute details, encourage us to expand our own perspectives of art’s extensive possibilities.
Cover image for 4 Malaysian Artists Give Chinese Folding Books A Fresh Take supplied by The Godown KL.