Radha Pandey

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                                                                                              Interview conducted by
Gretta Richardson (Scripps '19)

Radha Pandey is a papermaker and letterpress printer. She earned her MFA in Book Arts from the University of Iowa Center for Book and studies Western and Asian Papermaking techniques. Her expertise is in printmaking, book binding, and letterpress printing as well as traditional Indian textile hand-printing. She has expanded her interest in papermaking to create stop-motion animations using water markers. She teaches book arts classes in India and the United States and her work has been featured in thirty-seven public collections including the Library of Congress and Yale University. 

You can view Radha's artwork at www.radhapandey.com.

What was your process from start to finish in creating Taxonomy of Shapes? Why did you use the materials you did?

I was doing some reading about taxonomical classifications in nature when the idea for this book came to me. The book talked about how taxonomical classifications did not take into account evolutionary change. This was surprising, because as a science in itself, I thought it would be a little more 'scientific' in its approach. Turns out, it is very difficult to take evolution into account if you want to give the natural world a structure and fit it into a man-made definition of order. Taxonomy of Shapes, therefore, took this scientific approach and turned it on its head by asking the questions: What if one classified everything according to its basic geometric shape? Then, what would fall into which category? The book answers that question for the viewer. The result is bizarre, but that is what our current system of classification already does. Bizarre as it seems, we are stuffing nature into a grid in which it doesn't necessarily belong.

After arriving at the thesis for the book, I decided to plot out images that I wanted to use in the book, in a grid. I decided to use a circle, a triangle and a square- the three basic geometric shapes, to classify these images. Initially, I toyed with the idea of printing these shapes in a transparent color onto the grid. But this idea could even translate into a broadside. I wanted the reader to engage with my work, not see it as a flat image. I wanted 'navigation.' With that in mind, I explored map folds as a way-finding mechanism within the book structure and tried to figure out how that would actually work in this case. The paper would have to be translucent or transparent. Two ways of doing that: make highly beaten abaca or flax, or wax pre-made paper making it translucent. Given the time constraint to produce this book, I chose the latter. I chose to cut out the shapes instead of printing because I wanted the image form underneath to pop, not be further lost under a layer of print. I chose Kitakata because it is a strong paper that has a handmade quality to it. It would be able to withstand the folding and unfolding of the pages because of the length of fibers. Once waxed, it looked fairly translucent too. I chose Sakamoto as the backing paper because it prints polymer very well, and the color matched to my liking with the waxed Kitakata.

After making several mock ups, I cut all the paper down to size. I printed my plates onto the Sakamoto. I folded a few. I then folded the Kitakata to make sure it matched the page width after folding the way I wanted it to. Then I made mylar jigs to cut all the shapes out (except the circles-I cut those out on a cutting machine). I cut all the little shapes out of all pieces of Kitakata. I then carefully folded them into map folds. After that, I unfolded them, waxed them, stripped off excess wax, heat-gunned them to get rid of any brush strokes, and carefully refolded them.

I then took a break and folded all the accordions. Then I glued the map folds into the accordions. After that, I made several versions of the cover. I picked one that was right weight for the book, and editioned those. Then I cut the circle out using a dye on a C&P. After that, I cased them all in!

How did you choose which items to hand-draw? How do these objects interplay with each other?

I try to hand draw as much as possible in all my work. So I decided to draw all the images in the grid, and then turned that into a scratch negative which I turned into a polymer plate. I tried to randomize them as much as possible so that all the circles, squares and triangles were sort of spread out through each page spread.

How would you like your audience to interact with your work?

I love it when people handle my books. I want them to explore and discover what each book holds. Most of my books have an explanation of the concept only in the colophon expressly for the reason that I would like the audience to come to their own conclusion before reading the colophon. 

How are the central themes of your work relevant to contemporary issues?

The work I create focuses on my perception of the natural world and its fragility in relation to human existence. My bookwork draws from book history, ecology and looks at both human engagement with the environment and current ecological concerns. 

As an artist, it is important to talk about issues that matter to me personally that I see having a global impact. My books don't necessarily spell out these ecological concerns, but provide a space for the self-reflection of the reader so that they may come to their own understanding of the natural world by seeing it from the perspective of someone else, and through what can be an unrelated lens.


Radha Pandey