Here is a guest article on Hanji by Lucy Faraday written especially for Hanji Happenings.
Hanji is both a form of acid-free handmade paper originating from Korea, crafted from the inner bark of the paper mulberry tree (chomok), and an artform. For the Korean people hanji is a way of life, with hanji being used for a multitude of different everyday purposes. From its early days as use for recording government documents, hanji has been used for anything from window coverings and ropes through to books, ornaments and household goods. There are three sub-species of mulberry growing in different climatic areas of Korea, which give different qualities of paper, ideally suited to different uses, from calligraphy through to wall paper.
The Origins of Hanji
While the origins of hanji are not clear, it is thought that it was introduced by monks from China, sometime between the 2-4th century, who are later documented as having introduced the paper into Japan. Physically, hanji is finely textured, smooth to the touch and has a translucent sheen. Today, the paper can be bought in a range of different colours, some patterned, for various uses although finding genuine handmade hanji anywhere other than Korea is difficult.
Hanji as an Art Form
Hanji is perhaps best known in the western world as an art form, with the paper giving rise to the name by which it is recognised across continents. It is perhaps most at home though in the Insa-dong district of Seoul – a popular tourist destination – which overflows with traditional Korean culture and art. Here you can purchase hanji paper in almost any hue you could imagine and a multitude of different articles made from it.
Hanji comes either in two or three dimensional designs. In the two dimensional designs, pieces of hanji are shaped and fastened to a base paper, much like a textured painting. Three dimensional designs are made using a similar method to papier mache, in which pieces of hanji are immersed in a paste and then used to mould the desired shape, whether a bowl or a piece of sculpture.
There are three traditional forms of hanji, called jiho, jiseung and jido. Jiho is a method of soaking scraps of hanji in water before adding them to glue, which can then be used to form articles such as bowls. In Jiseung, strips of hanji are corded or woven to make household items – mats, trays and similar items. In Jido a frame, perhaps of card, is used to glue pieces of hanji to, building up layers to give strength and rigidity to the finished item.
Recent exposure at the 2012 Hanji Project, held at various locations in New York exemplified the diversity of hanji crafts, showcasing the work of over 80 artists and designers, with exhibits of traditional art through to contemporary, as well as fashion.
Should you be able to travel, other “must go” dates for 2012 to put in your diaries are:
- Adhesion Paradox, featuring the work of Seung Chul Lee, at the Artgate Gallery on West 27th Street, NY, which still has a few days left to run – finishing on 21 July 2012.
- The work of Suh Jeong Min, showing at the JanKossen Contemporary Gallery in Basle between July 5th and September29th 2012.
- The 12th Wonju Hanji Festival in Wonju, Gangwon-du, running from 9-12 September 2012.
Classes and Workshops
The beauty of a craft such as hanji is that you can experiment and teach yourself techniques, developing your own unique and individual style. There are sometimes classes available should you wish to learn established and traditional techniques. The Morgan Conservatory in Cleveland Ohio, in the US, is dedicated to the art of papermaking and runs workshops. In a similar vein, The Hanji Crew have a website dedicated to hanji and also run classes for anyone interested. You may also be able to purchase hanji through them. Should you be able to visit Korea, there are various companies running tours which include traditional Korean culture, including hanji workshops.
Literature about Hanji
Finding books in English about hanji appears to be almost as difficult as finding supplies of genuine paper. One book which has been published in June of this year (2012) is “Hanji – Everything You Need to Know about Traditional Korean Paper”, written by Lee Seung Chul, ISBN 9788932316185. Another publication is a paperback from the Sarah Spurgeon Gallery, Central Washington University titled “Contemporary Korean Paper Art”. This is an exhibition catalogue dating from 1985 and may be difficult to source. A third publication in English is “Modern and Contemporary Art in Korea: Tradition, Modernity and Identity” by Yong-na Kim, ISBN 9781565912151. While none of these may be cheap books, for anyone looking to explore the art form of hanji or for whom it is already a passion, the availability of any publications in English is treasure. Presumably there is a much wider market to explore in Korean books, but as of yet this does not appear to have filtered through to the English speaking sector.