The Way (2008) Leilei Guo Concertina of 88 pages. Woodcut and silkscreen on rice paper. Bound in cloth, front board in white, back board in black. 13.625 x 12.75 Acquired from the artist, 2 February 2019.
Almost a decade after a first viewing at the Frankfurt Book Fair, The Way became part of the Books On Books Collection. One thing such an experience teaches is carpe diem. It has taken all those years to have the chance to learn that the book opens from left to right, that the “red figure” in the woodcut is the standard grid on which Chinese letters are brushed, that the grid and the character remain constant under the wash that darkens as the pages turn, and that the embossed character on the front and back covers is reversed on the back cover.
The other lesson, perhaps the reverse, is patience and persistence.
But, with every viewing or reading — and its calming pleasure — The Way has its own lesson to teach.
Leilei Guo is an artist from Beijing. A few years ago, I had the good fortune to meet her at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where she was standing among her works.
She drew my attention to The Way, a large volume open to a double-page spread on a shelf in the corner of the stand.
On each page of The Way is a square woodblock print, consisting of the Chinese character for Tao superimposed on a red figure. As the reader moves forward in the book, a darkening silkscreened wash gradually blots out the character.
She stepped aside to let me look closer. After I had turned a few pages in the usual way, I commented on the heft of what seemed to be uncut pages. Laid flat in its double-page spread with the sharpness of the fold and weight of the paper apparently sinking into its spine, the book did not immediately betray its leporello structure. She gently moved my hands away and inserted her hand in the fold between the two pages.
Then, performing a traditional gesture of Tai Chi, she moved her hand to and fro without removing it from between the fold, and the pages turned or rather flowed and folded, each over the next, as if of their own accord. Gesturing from one side to the other and then back, again and again, she moved the print toward its opacity or clarity, depending on the direction. When she closed the volume, I could see that the board on one side was white, the board on the other, black.
According to the Vamp&Tramp’s website, which handled the work’s sale, the book embodies the artist’s vision of two strands of Chinese philosophy — Tao, or The Way, and Yin Yang. For me, that embodiment was in that moment in Frankfurt where another kind of printed book had its origin. Hand, movement, pages, ink, binding, the art were one.
For more of Leilei Guo’s art, visit the Vamp&Tramp site or the artist’s site.