Nous Sommes (2015)
Nous Sommes (2015)
Nine handmade-paper forms in handmade cloth-covered boxes, fitted to flapped container with magnetic seals, enclosed in cloth-covered Solander box. H310 x W305 x D54 mm. Acquired from the artist, 4 July 2017. Photos: Books On Books.
“Nous sommes”, the French for “we are”. But who is “we” here? Opening the first two flaps inside the blue-grey Solander box, I see that my first question should have been: What is Nous Sommes? The answer on the title page: “A physical manifestation of the human soul”. So, a book or sculpture then.
The third and fourth flaps reveal six diagrams to add to the three above the title page: a table of contents?
There are three brightly coloured boxes showing and fitting snugly together: the first three chapters or objects? Two are triangular, one is a parallelogram.
The next flap up gives another three boxes, all triangular and each a different color; and under the final flap, three more boxes, three more colors and a square among the triangles. Nine boxes making a tightly fitted square; six of them easily grasped because each has an edge at the perimeter.
The diagrammed shapes on the “table of contents” don’t correspond to the shapes of the nine boxes. The diagrammed shapes must be inside the boxes.
So I begin with the larger, lighter blue box. A sharp tap on the box, and a stiff, folded paper the same color as the box emerges. No words, no glyphs, but this is one of the shapes printed on the “table of contents”. It invites manipulation: stand me this way, now that, now this. With each turn, the light brings out different shades from the form’s valleys and mountains, and the form throws different shadows. Next the smaller, darker blue box houses a two-piece “chapter”, one piece to slot into the other. Again, different shades, different shadows.
The red box also offers up a two-piece chapter, but the pieces are glued together. So much larger a shape than the one before, but so much simpler.
The single piece from the orange box asks to be unfolded and one tip to be slipped into an awaiting slot; the resulting object is strange.
From the gold box, a butterfly emerges. The light glints off the gilt ink, and the upright box seems the perfect perch. From the green box, a glued and folded strip of paper unfolds into a hat, a collar, an open-mouthed bird or frog?
Inside the inner pink triangular box is the only solid — an irregular hexahedron. The contents of the violet square box unfolds and slots into itself to form a flower, the head of a mace?
The form that emerges from the small yellow box seems the most multi-faceted of all.
But where is the human soul manifest among these colors and forms?According to Neo-Pythagorean philosophers numbers, string vibrations, musical notes, colours and form have fundamental, metaphysical relationships. Pythagoras himself is thought to have said “colour is form, and form is colour”. Then there is Pythagorean Numerology that holds that a person’s date of birth can be distilled into one number (a root number) between 1-9, that each number is associated to a colour, and that each colour aligns with certain inner traits and life purposes. So within a box of grey (the color of universality), there are the nine colours of humanity: We are, making Nous Sommes a startling integration of book art, Pythagoras, numerology, tangrams, origami, papermaking, boxmaking, binding and printing.
On the title page, the work is designated as “Edition 9 of 9“. Yet, as of this writing, the work is unique. Of course, 9/9 = 1. And the chapter with which I started was blue, the colour associated with the number 5, the root number of my birth date. So many coincidences of sums, Nous Sommes must have been bound for the Books On Books Collection.
Further Reading and Listening
“A Match Made in Paper”, Arctic Paper, 4 July 2019. Accessed 23 September 2019.
“Bookmarking Book Art – Ioana Stoian”, Books On Books, 8 February 2018.
Hiebert, Helen. “Ioana Stoian“, podcast interview, Paper Talk, 16 April 2020. Accessed 19 April 2020.
Huffman, Carl. “Pythagoreanism“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.) Accessed 1 April 2020.
Lawlor, Robert. “Pythagorean Number as Form, Color, and Light”, in Homage to Pythagoras: Rediscovering Sacred Science, ed. Christopher Bamford (SteinerBooks, 1994), pp. 187-212.
Stoian, Ioana. Origami for all : elegant designs from simple folds (London: Busy Hands Books, 2013).
Stoian, Ioana. The origami garden : amazing flowers, leaves, bugs, and other backyard critters (New York: St. Martins Griffin, 2016).
Stoian, Ioana. Always be you (London: Busy Hands Books, 2019).