Everything is what it is because of its relationship to everything else.
Paper folds, creases, tears, and crinkles. It holds the vestige of notes passed to one another or journal entries of dreams and nightmares. It facilitates exchanges of currency, and other types of social contracts that become real when written down, and perhaps, letters to a lover. In many ways, paper is an empath; impressionable, and observant. It's a vessel that lives, dies, and becomes reborn through decomposition. Paper “bridges the material and immaterial” as Hong Hong describes. Papermaking, since the Han Dynasty in 206-220 CE, traveled a circuitous route to share our stories and accounts of our environment.
Hong is a papermaker whose work, according to the MacDowell Fellowship, “ sits at the intersection between craft, painting, performance, and earthwork.” Hong’s first memory of paper is how it embodies the wisdom of Buddhist rituals. Not only is it about the journey of reconnecting to the tree but it is about surrendering to the atmosphere. She says:
When we [her and her grandmother] got to the [Buddhist] temple, the monks would give us these little strips of holy paper, and then we would write down our prayers. We tied these red strips of paper to the branches of a tree. Looking back, did god reach down from the sky to comb through the forest with their hand? Or did the text evaporate into the atmosphere and travel across the universe to eventually reach god?
Hong’s studio, in Beverly, Massachusetts, revealed her methodical yet open process to the divine all around us. What caught my attention immediately were notations on paper with book quotes, journal entries, and maps onto plastic tarps made by the artist with Mandarin written in Sharpie. Those ideas are crucial in each step of the process as it guides as scripture does for life. The paper she pours, in her studio, was in its infancy, a mixture of blue construction pulp that she will one day, pour 12 ft × 8 ft (3.66 m × 2.44 m) — the largest pour she creates without losing her balance. Once she finds a place to set the pulp, she lets the atmosphere dry the paper.
Atmospheric conditioning is the most unpredictable factor of her process and often, the most magical. “Creases or colors fading [indicates] that the work is animated. It's alive, it's sentient, it’s a body, a clock, or a calendar, and it's keeping time for itself, for its environment, and for all other bodies within that environment,” Hong says. It becomes a topographical map of her body and the sun. The sun aids in evaporating the water. It references how the sky is borderless and infinite like the dance and exhales of cumulus cloud formations; passing by and recycling like memory. As the paper dries, she lifts and presses the paper under her weight. The atmosphere affects if pine needles make visitations, ripples from a storm appear, time makes gentle creases, or how the paper fades.
Fragments of journal entries appear in Hong’s work and are equally as important as the hand of the environment. Journeys are retraced in translations of English and Mandarin. They appear in the form of hand-cut stencils, where the sun washes the color leaving a print. Yet they look so gestural as if the sun and the artist co-wrote them by hand. They detail accounts of her transience. Hong lived in Hefei, China with her grandparents in the 90s; moved to North Dakota in 1999; subsequently, to Potsdam, NY; Potsdam to Athens, GA; and Athens to Beverly, MA. When Hong travels to residencies all over the country, she constantly searches for home only to find it in her body, which is her “internal compass.” Each time, she is replanted in unaccustomed earth to live, flee, and create home. “Home is something stitched together. Sometimes home can be as ephemeral as the way the sky looks in a [specific] location, or the smell of a particular flower at a [certain] time of year… everything is ephemeral.”
In Father and Father's Mother: Chart of the Inner Warp I, a shadow print of her father intersects with red beams — both horizontal and vertical; physical and metaphysical. The beams immediately remind me of the sun rays that cradle the children of Akhenaten in the relief of House Altar: Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and Their Three Daughters (1351–1334 BCE). While the Ancient Egyptian iconography may not have been the artist’s direct inspiration, both works fuse sun and divinity, creator(s) and created, and the presence of anatomical symbolism.
The red beams mirror the luminescent energy needed to create a shadow print; therefore, celebrate the power of the sun and the environment as a catalyst to the body (person, paper, or plant). A Chinese genesis story inspires Hong to incorporate shadows of her parents. The story is about a goddess who saw her reflection or shadow in the river and noticed she was lonely, so she created people out of river mud. Not haunting but familiar, this allegorizes the desire for connection to your own body, the body of others, and a greater environmental body to find belonging and by extension, home; even, if you must give into the impulse to forge it from the shadows.