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A Suite of Prints in Celebration of the Tripitaka Koreana

January 23, 2013
Photopolymer intaglio print

A FESTIVAL and exhibition took place in Korea, in September 2011, to celebrate the millennial anniversary of the first Tripitaka Koreana.  The festival served to promote the value of the Tripitaka Koreana and Janggyeong Panjeon to the world. The Tripitaka, and the Haein-sa temple that owns them, have UNESCO World Heritage status.

The Tripitaka are the Korean collection of 80 000 Buddhist scriptures, carved onto 81 340 wooden printing blocks. The original set took 77 years to complete, and was finished in 1087. However, it was destroyed in 1232 by a Mongol invasion. King Kojong ordered the set remade and work began in 1236. It was felt that replacing the wood blocks would convince Buddha to intervene and help repel the Mongolian invaders. Originally carved on Kangwha Island, they were moved to Haein-sa Temple during the early years of the Yi dynasty in the late 14th century.

The blocks were carved by monks using wood from silver magnolias, white birches, and cherry trees from Korea’s southern coast.  They soaked the wood in salt water for three years before cutting the individual blocks.  Each sections was boiled in salt water then dried before being planed and carved.

The blocks are stored in four storage halls in the northern side of the Haein-sa temple.  The foundations are reinforced with charcoal, lime, and clay to help maintain a constant temperature and control humidity.

When they were made, relief-printing from carved wooden blocks was the most progressive and efficient way of duplicating text. As well as celebrating the history of the ancient blocks, the Tripitaka Festival celebrated the technological and expressive advances made in print, internationally, during the thousand years following the production of the Tripitaka.  To this purpose, 72 artists were invited from 42 countries to produce artworks on the theme of “the mind” for exhibition during the festival.  Artists were invited to interpret this theme in the broadest possible way.  Prints, book art and installations were part of the 130 pieces in the exhibition. Bill Viola, Sonam Dolna, Blake Carrington and Zu Bing are among the artists invited to make work during the festival.  I was invited to represent the United Kingdom.

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I made a suite of prints, Ghosts, that use the positive and negative forms of three photographs.  The photographs are ofsmall-scale models made in my studio. The figures stand or walk, alone or in pairs.  They are silhouetted against the light from the studio window and a translucent paper is positioned between them and the camera almost filling the picture plane. I want to emphasize their existence in another space, a fictional, imaginative space behind the picture plane, which they are close to, but always behind. The small gap at the bottom of the paper screen allows glimpses of what might be feet, but might easily be clay, The creases and folds of paper are detailed and ‘real’, but the human forms behind are intentionally more difficult to interpret.  The paper is my interpretation of the barrier between people, between one mind and another.

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