“Paper changed everything,” notes Chelsea Holton, co-curator of New Hanji: A Korean Paper Tradition Re-Imagined,the latest exhibition at Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum. The invention of paper around the year 100 A.D. in China opened a new world for documentation, as well as for art.
Hanji art was originally developed in Korea, before spreading to other civilizations. The handmade hanji paper is produced from the inner bark of mulberry trees and is renowned for its durability. Hanji can be treated like regular drawing paper, but its versatility also allows for it to be used in the production of textiles and ornaments, molded as decorations for vessels or carved and attached to furniture.
Taking this ancient material as a starting point, five artists from Milwaukee and four from Korea incorporate it into contemporary art. Holton says hanji is enjoying something of a renaissance as it is adopted in the West and revived in its native land.
One artist, co-curator Rina Yoon, is the origin point for New Hanji, Holton says. “(Yoon) had taken a couple of trips back to Korea in the last five years or so, and she took a group of students to Korea in 2012 along with all of the Milwaukee artists in the exhibition. They studied the techniques and all started to incorporate hanji. Rina organized an exhibition in 2013 that went really well — and this seemed like a valuable thing for Milwaukee.”
That prior showing of these pieces occurred in South Korea at the Jeonju Hanji Festival. At Villa Terrace, a historic venue with a similar attentiveness to both present and past, the show represents a melding of traditional and current artistic trends.
The Milwaukee-based artists, to varying degrees, have used paper mediums previously in their work. They found that having learned of this material, they were each using it in new work. Viewers also will see that there are identifiable approaches that connect their past endeavors with this medium.
Jessica Meuninck-Ganger has for a long time used a combination of drawing and video in her installations. In “Trace,” footage of Milwaukee neighborhoods passes by in ephemeral light behind small, sculptural buildings made of hanji. It is meant to evoke thoughts of the transitory nature of spaces. An adage about hanji proclaims that it lasts for 1,000 years. Could the same ever be said about today’s built environments? The sense of the present is simultaneously fragile and nostalgic.
Paper’s three-dimensional possibilities are explored by Christiane Grauert’s Block series. Tall and angular, her skyscraper-like forms are a translation of Hong Kong architecture. The carved spaces of the windows are done with a process learned from Haemija Kim, a master of the technique whose work is featured in the exhibition.
Master Kim, as she is known, was drawn into the traditions of hanji through an interest in handmade paper objects such as sewing boxes. For her study of these and her endeavors in their recreation, she was given the Presidential Award of Excellence by the South Korean government in 2009.
In the world of fashion, Korean artist Yang Bae Jeon has become interested in the study of traditional garments associated with funerary practices. In the interests of ecological and other concerns, Jeon’s work in the making of hanji burial shrouds has been influential and an example is on display here.
Yoon also synthesizes the body and methods of artistic construction in her work. She uses jiseung, a process of paper coiling in large wall pieces that produce cloud-like forms in brilliant white. They originate as pieces molded from her body, transformed into dramatic billows of round and sharply pierced shapes in “Earth Between In and Yeon.”
One Buddhist concept Yoon frequently comes back to in her work is inyeon. She says, “The body returns to the earth and emerges from it. The earth and the body are separate and one at the same time.”
In her capacity as an art historian and writer, Holton traveled to Korea with the artists as well as students in order to produce scholarly research for this project. One of the strengths of this exhibition is that curatorial approach, which introduces visitors to the context and process of this traditional craft. It wraps multifaceted artistic endeavors together, connected through knowledge of the past and the fibers of hanji which reach far beyond their point of cultural origin.
New Hanji: A Korean Paper Tradition Re-Imagined continues through Jan. 3 at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, 2220 N. Terrace Ave. Visit
villaterracemuseum.org for more details.
Art Bar, 722 E. Burleigh St.
Through Nov. 2
Ever since its opening, Art Bar has held this yearly exhibition where artists present visual images of all things sinister and strange. This year’s display ranges from sci-fi fantasy digital art to prints, paintings and assemblages delving into the dark corners of the psyche.
2015 Dia de los Muertos Exhibition
Walker’s Point Center for the Arts,
839 S. Fifth St.
Through Nov. 21
For 23 years, WPCA has held an annual exhibition featuring the traditional ofrendas, or altars, which commemorate deceased loved ones at this time of year. The ofrendas are made by members and community groups, each a distinct portrait to honor and revive the memory of those who have passed on.
Day of the Dead Ofrendas
Latino Arts Gallery, 1028 S. Ninth St.
Oct. 28 – Nov. 20
Located inside the United Community Center, the Latino Arts Gallery will host a display of ofrendas, honoring the traditions of the community. An opening reception will be held on Nov. 6 from 5 to 7 p.m.