During his artist residency with Zo Project, artist James Lucas had the opportunity to visit Suoi Co village and participate in the process of making Do paper. We talked to him about his experience.
Why did you choose to come to Vietnam to learn about papermaking?
I came to Vietnam to learn about papermaking because of my interests in paper and in plants. First, I am an origami artist, and I have been folding paper for over twenty years. As origami has become more complex, there has been a shift to use special strong and thin papers that can withstand repeated folding without tearing. Vietnamese origami artists like Nguyễn Hùng Cường have demonstrated that handmade papers like dó and dướng are especially well-suited for complex origami. Unfortunately, these papers are hard to obtain in my home country (USA), so I traveled to Vietnam to learn more about it.
Second, I am a graduate student in botany, and I am particularly interested in why certain plants are used for paper. Around the world, many cultures have converged on using plants that are very similar to each other: the dướng tree is closely related to the kozo bush used to make paper in Japan, and dó is closely related to the lokta bushes used for making paper in Nepal. Comparing how these paper plants are managed and harvested across cultures could inform conservation measures to help paper plants and hand papermaking traditions survive in the future.
How was your experience with our artisan in the village? What do you like the most?
I stayed for two weeks with Mr. Chuc and Ms. Hau, experienced Muong papermakers who live in Suoi Co Village west of Ha Noi. They were very kind and hospitable, and they were very happy to share their knowledge and expertise about papermaking with me. My favorite part of the experience was learning from Ms. Hau how to use the liem, the bamboo screen resembling a sushi roller used for lifting wet sheets of paper from a suspension of fibers in water. Despite its simplicity, mastering the liem takes a lot of practice: if your hands are crooked, or if you shake the liem too hard, the sheet of paper will not be even. But Ms. Hau was a patient and attentive teacher, and within just a few days of intense practice I was able to make paper too!
What do you plan to do after your experience with us?
I have several objectives in progress art exhibitions and botany research. First, I have shared dó and dướng paper from Zo Project with my origami artist colleagues. Together, we are working to showcase the plants and cultures behind the many papermaking traditions around the world through a museum exhibition at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, USA. We will have on display a variety of paper arts, including origami folded from dó and dướng. This exhibition is titled Leafing Through History: Plants that Make Paper and will be on display from 14th June 2019 to 27 October 2019.
Secondly, I am planning to conduct research in Vietnam. Since stripping fibers from dó trees kills the stem, the tree needs enough time to grow back to a good size before it can be harvested again. Secondly, there are different techniques for harvesting fibers—stripping from the tree, and cutting the branches off and then stripping the branches.
I would like to monitor dó trees that are harvested for paper in Da Bac District to see how these different kinds of harvesting techniques will affect the long-term survival of the plants there. The results from my research could be used to inform conservation policies in Vietnam for not just dó trees, but also dó papermakers.
Do you think that Suoi Co is good location for an artist residency?
Yes – it is a peaceful location with lots of opportunities to draw artistic inspiration from nature.
If you come back, what do you wish to have from us?
I would like to work with Mr. Chuc and Ms. Hau to experiment further with paper dyeing techniques that resist fading. This could be especially useful for origami and other paper artists that like to use dó paper, but would like a bigger selection of colors.
Would you like to have an experience like James?
Learn more about our artist residency program here: http://zopaper.com/2019-artist-residency-program/