Teaching Materials

Learning at Home | Paper Ripping—A Therapeutic Pen Pal Project

This series of home-based, creative exercises reexamines the role of art during moments of crisis in the contemporary world.

In light of class suspensions in Hong Kong during the coronavirus outbreak in spring 2020, AAA has invited local artists to design a range of educational activities for teachers to help students carry out at home. These exercises encourage teachers and students to reflect upon their experience of the virus outbreak, relevant social issues, and the purpose of art in times of emergency.

In response to social distancing, Hong Kong artist Pak Sheung Chuen introduces an alternative way of communication through shapes, colours, and digits. 

Teachers are invited to share the process and result of students practising these exercises on Learning & Participation's Facebook group: Contemporary Art in Asia: Teachers’ Community.

 

Paper Ripping—A Therapeutic Pen Pal Project

An exercise featuring a letter with no letters, and ciphers that need no deciphering

Image: Pak Sheung Chuen's son practicing the exercise. Courtesy of Pak Sheung Chuen.
Image: Pak Sheung Chuen's son practicing the exercise. Courtesy of Pak Sheung Chuen.

Introduction

Take a sheet of A4 paper and tear it into pieces, paying no attention to the size and quantity of the scraps. On the torn paper fragments, scribble numbers in any combination or sequence—you may even write a repeating sequence of digits. Mail the paper fragments to your groupmate. The recipient is free to read and interpret the “letter” in their own way and reply in the same fashion. This exercise creates an emotional connection between two correspondents, which in turn puts both minds at ease.

Materials: A4 sheets or coloured papers

Time: 30–45 minutes

Target: Secondary school students

Rules: Put students into groups of two, and ask each group to correspond with each other by sending four to five letters of paper fragments. Document the contents of the letters as interpreted by the recipients and keep the torn papers.

Tozer Pak is collecting student works as part of his artistic project. Teachers are invited send photo documentation of the paper fragment exchange between students via email to learn@aaa.org.hk, specifying the name of the school, the students, and their grades.

 

Learning Goals 

1. To establish a simple but profound way of communication that goes beyond the boundaries of language, culture, and writing proficiency;

2. To rethink the forms and purposes of writing and reading by reverting to the most primitive vehicles for communication, i.e., shapes, colours, and digits;

3. To promote mindfulness through a stress-relieving activity that helps train both the left and right hemispheres of the brain for better interpersonal communication.

 

Steps

1. For the sender: Prepare a sheet of A4-coloured paper (it could also be half a sheet, two sheets, or plain paper).

2. Instead of writing on the paper, tear it into fragments of random sizes and shapes, then scatter them on a table.

3. On the torn paper fragments, scribble numerical digits in any combination or sequence until all fragments are marked. The numbers will serve as the contents of letters to your fellow classmate.

4. Observe the paper fragments lying in front of you, scattered numbers like drifting mimosa seeds that find new life on a foreign land.

5. Put the paper fragments into an envelope and mail it to your groupmate.

6. For the recipient: Arrange the fragments you received in any order of preference. Trust your instincts and look to the fragments for inspiration. Photograph these arranged fragments and send the image, as well as what you believe is the message behind these paper scraps, to the sender. Now it’s your turn to pick up a piece of paper and tear it into fragments to send to the other person.

 

Variations

1. There are different approaches to tearing paper. You can tear one, two, or half a sheet; you can produce large or small fragments in any shapes; you can do it methodically or casually…you can write digits in black or red ink, make them monochromatic or colourfulAre there any other options you can think of?

2. Everyone has their own way of tearing depending on their personality and experience. It is perfectly fine to be different, just let your own emotions guide your hands. Like an abstract painting, you will gradually see your own emotional imprints in the paper fragments that you have produced.

3. Try to read the sender’s emotion, their way of thinking, and any other hidden messages from the “letter.” By rearranging the fragments, you are producing another letter with a different font, a different flow, a different narrative, a different tone, and a different length. The arrangement differs from people to people, from one mood to another. It is like deciphering numeric codes or looking at an expressive abstract painting.

 

Further Reading

1. Numbers and Art

  •  American artist Jasper Johns drew the numerical figures “0” to “9,” each number superimposed over one another: 0 Through 9, 1961

 

2. Collages, Letters, and Sketchbooks

  • Filipino artist Roberto Chabet made white on white collages: Untitled, 1978
  • Hong Kong artist Kwok Mangho Frog King created collages by layering burnt papers of various shapes: Fire Collage, 1979
  • Singaporean artist Lee Wen drew black lines on his sketchbook, which can be seen as reflections of the artist’s emotions and feelings: Sketchbook, 1993

 

About the Artist 

Pak Sheung Chuen was born in 1977. He lives and works in Hong Kong. He obtained his BA degree in Fine Arts from the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2002. His works were published in the Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao almost weekly in 2003–07. Pak is a conceptual and performance artist, depicting the absurdity and ordinariness of everyday life with poetry and humour, and creating a poignant yet thought-provoking viewing experience. Pak is the author of ODD ONE IN: Hong Kong Diary and ODD ONE IN II: Invisible Travel. Pak has participated in numerous international exhibitions, and represented Hong Kong in the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009. In 2012, he received the Best Artist Award in the Chinese Contemporary Art Awards (CCAA) and the Best Artist Award in Hong Kong Arts Development Awards (HKADA). 

 

Publishing date: 5 May 2020

 

The AAA Learning and Participation Programme is supported by the S. H. Ho Foundation Limited.