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Culture

Taiwan's Paper Tiger

Paper artist Hung Hsin-Fu can make a paper bird quicker than the bat of an eyelid. His paper sculptures are on show at an exhibition, on the beauty and diversity of Taiwan's ecology, in Berlin.

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Hung Hsin-Fu in his element

The best thing he has ever made, Hsin-Fu says, is a child. Hung Hsin-Fu, Taiwanese artist with a passion for animals, has created thousands of birds, fish and mammals – using paper. Despite his love for an ancient tradition and an ability to make the most intricate of figures out of a single piece of paper, Hung Hsin-Fu’s favourite creation is his one-year-old son.

Cutting contours

Snip! Snip! Hong cuts and folds faster than the eye can see, and there behold! – in less than five minutes a Swallowtail butterfly flaps ist paper wings in the hands of ist creator, Hung Hsin-Fu. Whether dog, cat, dragon or unicorn –Hong’s nimble fingers can turn any piece of paper into a flapping bird, a laughing face or squeaking mouse.

The art of folding, and cutting paper is a tradition which, according to Hsin-Fu, was first reported in 540 but has its roots long before. Hsin-Fu folded his first piece of paper at the age of four. He was shown the basics by other, older children. Intrigued by this ancient Taiwanese tradition, he folded, cut and tore diligently until he had finally achieved his first, more complex model – that of a heron. In the decade that followed, Hung Hsin-Fu must have produced hundreds, if not thousands of animal figures, from ant to spider to Chinese dragon.

Ocean, swamp and desert

Animals are Hsin-Fu’s favourite motif. According to the artist, his art is a reflection of Taiwan culture, a culture which is closely linked to the island’s biological diversity.

Taiwan is home to 4,000 species of plants and 150,000 species of animals. Steep valleys and magnificent mountain ranges - some reaching an altitude of 4,000 metres – stretch across the length and breadth of this subtropical island, which from an bird’s-eye view, looks rather like a banana leaf.

"My sculptures express what I see and experience in daily life," Hung Hsin-Fu says. He regards himself as a mirror, recapturing the quick glimpse of a shy monkey’s face or the fluttering wings of a swallowtail butterfly in his intricate, elegant paper cuttings.

Papierfische Hung Hsin-Fu, Two Fish

Hung Hsin-Fu's numerous paper animals are a register of Taiwan’s endangered biological diversity. As Frederic Chang from the Taiwan government stated last October, Taiwan has seen a serious depletion of ist ecological resources due to overexploitation, despite the island’s abundant flora and fauna.

Roughly 25 per cent of the island’s flora and fauna are thought to have found refuge in Taiwan’s numerous nature reserves and six national parks. But the protection of Taiwan’s wildlife and natural habitats is a concern for both present and future generations.

A common concern

Hung Hsin-Fu is one of a number of artists to capture Taiwan’s biological diversity in an exhibition which is travelling the world, including Germany. Over a hundred photographs, 30 paintings and 20 paper sculptures belong to the "Ilha Formosa. Discovering the Beauty of Taiwan’s Ecology" – at current at Berlin’s Natural History Museum.

As the exhibition was launched in October at Taipeh’s Zoo, Frederic Chang from the Taiwan government praised "Ilha Formosa" as a prime example of Taiwan’s conservation endeavors and the efforts of both state and private groups to protect the island’s wildlife.

The exhibition in Berlin, a joint effort of both museum and the city’s Taipeh Representation, offers an insight in aspects of Taiwan’s wildlife which visitors or tourists may never experience. Photographs by artists such as Yeh Ming-yuan show animals like the Formosan rock macaque, a mammal endemic to Taiwan which inhabits areas higher than an altitude of 3,000 metres, and is therefore rarely to be seen.

Wang Ching-hsi and Chung Yun-hsi’s photographs of the masu salmon, or Taiwan trout, depict a fish which has been an inhabitant of the island since the Ice Age and lives in the deep ponds of Taiwan’s mountain tributaries.

Hung Hsin-Fu, fascinated by this example of Taiwan’s exceptional ecology, spent 15 months studying the masu salmon with its yellow-green back, silver-white belly and distinct, round spots. Hsin-Fu sent his first designs for a paper model to experts before setting about on the paper sculpture itself. Hsin-Fu’s fishes are just as lively as the photographs of his Taiwanese counterparts: Avoiding paint, Hsin-Fu has cut holes where the fishs’ scales and dark, round patches would show. A technique which gives the model more dimension and, Hsin-Fu says, "makes the sculptures breathe".

History and future

Paper art is an ancient tradition in Taiwan – a tradition which, in the wake of the computer, is in danger of dying out. But Hsin-Fu is optimistic and says that it is yet again gaining in popularity. "Paper art was always a way of communication between parents and their children," Hsin-Fu says. A mode of communication which in the days of the computer and television, adults are keen on reactivating. And as with computers, ideas can only be realized on a screen, paper, he says is "concrete", and can be found everywhere, whereas computers are not affordable for everyone.

Hsin-Fu sees it as his destiny to spread an art form which has been belonged to Taiwan’s culture for more than 15 centuries. He has a Paper Work House in Taipeh, where he teaches both children and adults alike. However, Hsin-Fu is well aware of both the history and the future of this ancient art form. His collection of creations include both paper sculptures of ancient Taiwan culture, such as dragonboats and and laterns, but also examples of Taiwan’s modern face as a country for computer expertise – such as his tiny paper mouse, complete with ears, tail and (marble-) mouse ball.

Hong has shown his paper sculptures in exhibitions all over the world. Reflecting on his current sojurn in Berlin, Hsin-Fu takes two different coloured pieces of paper, and meticulously cuts two oval cuts in the folded sheets. Snip! Hsin-Fu, beaming, holds up his version of the German capital: Two pieces of paper, which slotted together make one heart. "Two entities which belong together," he says.