Books On Books Collection – Xiao Long Hua

The Blind Men and the Elephant (2019)

The Blind Men and the Elephant (2019)
Xiao Long Hua
Sleeved paperback, exposed sewn spine. Sleeve: 305 x 305 mm. Book: H303 x W305 mm. 52 pages. Edition of 500, of which this is #178. Acquired from Northing, 18 May 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Working with binding designer Zhong Yu and tbook designer Lu Min of the “One and One Half Atelier”, Shanghai-based Xiao Long Hua has found a sympathetic outlet and form for his creative vision. His first work with them is The Blind Men and the Elephant, a variation on the parable in the Buddhist sutra Tittha Sutta. It takes place in the kingdom “Mirari”, ruled by King Mirror.

Selection from One and One Half Atelier. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

As in the more traditional version, the blind men report the elephant to be of different shapes, but in this version, those shapes reflect those of the blind men themselves. Throughout the book, a blueprint grid in the background of the dark blue and light gray page serves to emphasize the geometric shapes of the characters and images and to reflect, with its reductiveness, each blind man’s rigid view of the elephant’s nature. And up to this point of the blind men’s report, the grid has been bounded intermittently by coordinate markers, some numerical, some in letters and some in Chinese characters.

Xiao Long Hua places the different shapes the blind men perceive into the mind of the king, where they become a butterfly and then transform endlessly and kaleidoscopically into other figures represented across a series of pages printed dark blue. This variation on the theme comes from the Miao (Hmong) creation song Butterfly Mother or Mother Butterfly.

The final colorless two pages consist of cut-outs inviting the readers’ hands to create more strange figures along with the king’s mind. This element of touch recurs on the cover, which on closing the reader will find is covered in fingerprints. The cover’s ink is thermochromatic, fading away under the warmth of touch, returning as it cools and waiting for our next blind touch.

Selection from One and One Half Atelier edition. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The publishing house Qianxun Neverend has issued a shorter trade edition of The Blind Men and the Elephant. Although a thermochromatic cover proved to be too expensive, an equally interesting design feature animates the cover’s image of the butterfly transforming into the multiple figures in the king’s mind.

Cover of Qianxun Neverend edition.
© Qianxun Neverend 2022.

Prior to The Blind Men and the Elephant, Xiao Long Hua engaged primarily in illustrations, scroll painting, installation works and sculpture, some of which can be seen on his Tumblr blog. For his latest work with the One and One Half Atelier, The Great Migration, the Atelier’s site announced a multimedia installation. A comment about this work sheds light on The Blind Men and the Elephant as well; he writes, “…I want to paint a magnificent picture of the Great Migration to express those spaces and memories that are fading away, I try to blur the forms between people, animals and objects. “

Other works in the Books On Books Collection to compare with The Blind Men and the Elephant include

The Black Book of Colors (2008) Menena Cottin

Like a Pearl in My Hand (2016) Carina Hesper

Vladimir Nabokov: AlphaBet in Color (2005) Jean Holabird

Blindness (2020) Masoumeh Mohtadi

Voyelles (2012) Arthur Rimbaud/Le Cadratin

Reading Closed Books (2019) Sam Winston

Further Reading

Miao Intangible Cultural Heritage — Embroidery“. Google Arts and Culture. Accessed 18 July 2022.

Zuo Shu. 2022. “After finishing this book, I have a new understanding of ‘picture book‘”. iNews (Culture). Accessed 18 July 2022.

Books On Books Collection – Masoumeh Mohtadi

“I AM SEEKING TO UNEARTH A SOLUTION BEYOND THE CONVENTIONAL SYSTEM OF LANGUAGE FOR MAKING CONNECTIONS.” Masoumeh Mohtadi

Blindness (2020)

Blindness (2020)
Masoumeh Mohtadi
Altered paperback, Persian/Farsi translation of Blindness by José Saramago. H210 x W145 x D20 mm, ۳۱۸ (318) pages. Unique. Acquired from Bavan Gallery, 9 January 2021.

As would be expected, the binding of this Persian trade paperback is on the right, but its front cover and copyright page promise the unexpected. Excising lines of text from every page in the book, Mohtadi then physically reweaves Saramago’s gripping tale of a pandemic of sudden blindness into illegibility, varied patterns and heightened tactility.

The flimsiness of the pages slows their turning. As does their frequent catching at one another as they turn. In the slow turning, different woven patterns appear — some suddenly, some gradually. Some patterns bring to mind the streets and cityscape the novel’s characters can no longer see. Some, the hospital warrens the quarantined inhabit. Some, the tradition of carpet weaving.

The excised and woven pages inflate the book as if it had been read and re-read. Closed, it compresses in the hand, feels airy and weighty at the same time; opened, it pricks at the fingers, casts shadow and light and drags the eyes to surface and depth simultaneously.

Mohtadi’s cutting, weaving, pasting and patterning appropriates Saramago’s novel in a thoroughly integral way. And for a Western reader, the Persian translation and script introduce another layer between text and mind that challenges perception and enhances appreciation of this work of book art. She succeeds in connecting.

Further Reading

A Reading Room with No Books: A Discussion on Artists’ Books”, Center for Book Arts, New York, NY. 28 January 2021. Accessed 1 February 2021. Mohtadi begins speaking about her works at the 13’49” mark in the video.

Guy Laramée”, Books On Books Collection, 18 September 2019. For Laramée’s response to Saramago’s A Caverna.

Francesca Capone”, Books On Books Collection, 5 November 2020. For Capone’s exploration of integrating weaving and language.