Hermès’ new installation questions the role of textbooks in Noriko Ambe’s paper sculptures

Paper play

Text: Adibah Isa

Fondation d'entreprise Hermès ropes in Japanese paper-cutting artist Noriko Ambe for sculptural portraits of students from their textbooks

Some of us can still recall our love/hate relationships with textbooks. How's this for a throwback: Our younger selves poring over these bibles of academia while dealing with expectations from parents and teachers, peer pressures and our own changing, pubescent bodies. Japanese artist Noriko Ambe has taken that intimate relationship between student and textbook to another level through her signature paper-cutting sculptures in '(Un)filtered Reflections', the newest installation at Aloft at Hermès.

Starting her framework from as early as March this year, the New York-based artist sought answers from 15-year-old students from School of the Arts (SOTA) in Singapore and Furukawa Junior High School in Japan. Together with programme director Emi Eu of STPI, Ambe posed two simple questions to students: "What do you think your textbooks teach you? And what do your textbooks not teach you?"

In her first collaboration with the public, Ambe was keen on transforming the meaning of textbooks as well as express their relationship with today's youth in the context of their respective societies and education system. We're all too familiar with Singapore's competitive and severe education system and its effect on youths, as we are with Japan's problems over their screening of history textbooks to alter students' perception of World War II. Putting Singapore and Japan side by side, the artist also looks at how students from the former seem more open, while the latter often take to secretive ways of expression.

Noriko Ambe

To start, students were instructed to choose a textbook and draw a single unbroken line in a blank notebook. Like a mind map of sorts, students drew the lines thrice, mapping their own lives within controlled timings of one, three and five minutes. They then cut along the lines they've drawn to make a three-dimensional piece of art. From there, Ambe recreated these intimate portraits of each student from their chosen textbooks.

What results is an alteration of the pre-existing patterns and information in these books. In one of them, a Japanese student requested to burn the Japanese, science and art textbooks, which resulted in ashes that were deemed free from the material world. "You can go anywhere you want," commented Ambe on the work. "That's the kind of freedom I think he wanted to obtain."

'(Un)filtered Reflections' by Noriko Ambe runs till 11 February 2018 at Aloft at Hermès, 541 Orchard Road, Liat Towers.
Find out more about Fondation d'entreprise Hermès.


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