Folding Screens

During the past decade in which I have been making hanging scrolls, I amassed a collection of fragments of calligraphy from old damaged scrolls that I would deconstruct and use for parts. Occasionally I might create a new mounting for an intact piece, but often only a part would be salvageable. I felt these fragments to be phrases whispered and shouted in voices of ink, and I marveled at the diversity of forms that written calligraphies of Chinese and Japanese text can take.

   I ended up mounting some of these calligraphies on small reversible folding screens I call “desk byōbu.” The reverse sides are done in colorful antique paper, primarily from my collection of hand-painted early twentieth-century kimono and obi designs.


Only recently did I discover that collecting and mounting fragments of calligraphy in folding booklets has a history in Japan. Called tekagami (mirrors of the hand), such assemblages of bits of text cut from scrolls, folding screens, and letters, began to appear in the sixteenth century as albums of precious writings, often of renowned artists or famous personages. In these cases, although the text is meant to be readable, one senses that style overshadows content as a reason for inclusion of a fragment.

   In my desk byōbu, some of the calligraphy fragments are not readable as text at all. Rather, I was trying to emphasize the dynamic and fluid abstract quality of the brushstrokes. A few of them contain text in different orientations—to shake free from the attempt to “read” them, and instead simply see them.

   My desk byōbu project consists of thirteen screens of 8- by 10-inch panels, in combinations of 2, 3, or 4 panels, some oriented on the long direction, some on the short. Three of them also have attached woven cords so that they may be hung like a scroll. All are constructed with butterfly hinges so that the panels can fold in either direction. Since this project was a way to experiment with this form, the hinges are covered in a variety of material—paper, metallic foil, or silk.