In October 2016, the Channel Island of Jersey became the next stop in Professor Xiaoguang Qiao and Karen Bit Vejle’s quest in search of dragons. The renowned artists were invited by ArtHouse Jersey to bring their internationally celebrated exhibition ‘Paper Dialogues – The Dragon and Our Stories’ over to Jersey for its British debut.
The exhibition was installed in a purpose-built gallery space in the Town Hall of the island’s capital St Helier. Jersey’s Steven Laffoley-Edwards created a spectacular lighting design for the space and an original soundscape was specially commissioned for the exhibition by Jersey-born Jack Chown. Now based in London, Jack trained at University of Oxford, Royal College of Music and Abbey Road Institute and composed the imaginative score, which was played around the room in reference to the dragon and her seven eggs.
During the exhibition’s two-week run in Jersey, over 5,000 people, including over 600 students, came to view the work, which proved to be a huge source of inspiration for islanders. However, this was only the beginning of the paper-cutting legacy that lives on in the Island since the exhibition. ArtHouse Jersey was able to keep the dialogue alive through an Island-wide initiative they called the ‘Paper Talks’ Project.
When in Jersey, Professor Xiaoguang Qiao and Karen Bit Vejle ran a series of master-classes to train seven Jersey artists in psaligraphy. With their newly acquired skills these artists (Abi Overland, Anna Shipley, Ben Robertson, Joanna Brown, Karen Le Roy Harris, Lizi Hill and Maria Tarrant) created their own paper cut art in response to the ‘Paper Dialogues’ exhibition, as well as leading community workshops with local school children and members of the public, including charities, care homes and clubs. The workshop participants were taught to create egg-shaped paper-cuts that would eventually become the scales of a community ‘Paper Dragon’ sculpture. The results were spectacular with a wide range of styles, patterns and arrangements coming through in the end results.
The work created as a result of the project was showcased at various venues throughout May 2017 and culminated in the installation of a three-dimensional paper cut ‘Jersey Dragon’ sculpture flying through the Jersey Library between May 15t h and June 30t h 2017.
The Jersey Dragon, designed and coordinated by the seven local artists, comprised of a sculptural paper head and a number of body parts built out of a skeleton of PVC plastic. Wrapped around the PVC skeleton were the paper cut scales contributed by community members as part of the outreach workshops. The finished sculpture was suspended within the central atrium space in the Jersey Library throughout that summer.
As part of the ‘Paper Talks’ project, each of the seven local artists also exhibited their own mixed-media artworks. Their work was inspired by their engagement with the project and the original source of stimulus, the ‘Paper Dialogues’ collaboration. The exhibition was held in the Jersey Art Centre’s Berni Gallery from May 8t h until June 2n d 2017.
At the opening of the Papirkunst Centre in 2018, Karen Bit Vejle announced that ‘Paper Dialogues’ would be exhibited in March 2019 and invited ArtHouse Jersey to add Jersey’s own paper dragons to the exhibition. In order to capture Jersey and its community, along with the legacy that had been started with the original Paper Dialogues exhibition in 2016, ArtHouse Jersey commissioned two exceptional Jersey artists, Emma Reid and Layla May Arthur, to each create their own paper representation of our Island, forming our very own ‘dragon’. These works speak of our history and folklore, along with the produce, landscape, traditions and people that make the Island what it is today.
ArtHouse Jersey also awarded funding to support Layla to take part in an internship and artist residency at the Papirkunst Centre in Blokhus in March 2019. As part of this residency Layla learnt the process of curating and creating an exhibition, and refined her psaligraphy skills under the tutelage of Karen Bit Vejle.