Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Chinese bookbinding enters the digital age

This month I presented my Chinese bookbinding slide show and talk at Warner Pacific College. It's always fun opening up minds and eyes to the simple, great invention of books and to try to imagine life without them. Many of the students in attendance had just read Dai Sijie's Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, a gem of a story in which books become everything to two city boys undergoing a rural re-education during the Cultural Revolution.

To the boys, books are their tools to escape, wooing, salvation, and even their undoing. No wonder Mao was so afraid of them.

To prepare for the talk—and as an excuse to collect potential art for the bookbinding manual-adventure tale I'm revising—I decided to give my image collection of bookbinders, printers, conservationists, and other artisans from my first China stay a serious upgrade, and digitize them. It was exhilarating finally sending off that package of dusty slides in hopes they would return quickly as even more handsome, sharply focused bits of data. Considering the results and the horrific customer service endured, I still heartily recommend the process, just not with that particular company.

Turning the page on that contentious project, here's the digitized opening image for the presentation: a papercut feitian (flying angel) from the far-west Chinese city of Dunhuang presenting a peaceful offering, a Chinese book stacked and wrapped in the traditional style.