Tatsuo Miyajima from 9 to 1 and zero in the cycle of life and death

In my post about the London-based Korean artist, Do Ho Suh, I talked about the importance of the notion of karma to his work. Karma is also central to the work of the Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima.


Miyajima’s three core concepts are:


  • keep changing
  • connect with everything
  • continue forever

These three symbolise human life and are the basis for his art.

Key to Miyajima’s practice are the numbers nine to one and zero, he says:

“Basically the count goes down from nine to one, then repeats: from 9-8-7, these numbers shine this represents life. The count continues, and as it does this symbolises change.


Then we reach zero In Sanskrit zero was call “sunya”, in Buddhism, in Japanese, this becomes kuu, “the void”.

It is said this idea originated in India in the sixth century but the original meaning  was not only emptiness or nothingness but also  swollenness an explosion.

In other words, ‘zero’ incorporates two diametrically opposed meanings: it indicates that this void is invisible, yet packed with energy.




So when someone dies, it’s like going to sleep: you can’t see anything, but there’s plenty of power there, and if you rest for a while, life reverts as though you were waking up the next morning.


Tatsuo Miyajima: Counter Voice in Wine

This repeating cycle of life and death can be taken as the boundary of what is visible: invisible then visible, the pattern of life and death repeating. For Miyajima, that’s what it’s all about, that’s what life is.”

Miyajima doesn’t include zero in his work because it would signify death. So instead of a zero, it goes black:

“The gap between counting cycles represents a pause or breath, the ‘space of death’ before life begins once more.”

I personally found this exhibition inspiring both for the sheer scale and technical knowledge that must have been behind its staging, but even more because of the conceptual ideas behind Miyajima’s work.

This idea of the cycle of life and death, of karma, being represented by the simple idea of counting between 9 and 1 (to limit the numbers to single digits only) seems to me brilliant in its simplicity, and it can be used in so many ways. This also inspired me to think about the other textual references I could layer over my work, to represent the languages and therefore cultures that have influenced both my personal history, and that of my ancestors, but really of the history of humankind, if I can be so bold!








The Candyman of Artists’ books

The Magic of Paul Johnson: Movable Book Artist and Teacher

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson: book artist and children’s literacy expert

Last year I was fortunate enough to experience first-hand the art and magic of British book artist and children’s literacy expert Paul Johnson, as part of the Designer Bookbinders autumn series of lectures at the St Bride Foundation in London.

In her interesting blog about making books with children, www.bookmakingwithkids.com, Cathy Miranker said:

“Johnson’s specialty is doing exceptional things with single sheets of paper, and he uses his magic in two ways, teaching book arts to school children (and training teachers to use bookmaking in their classrooms) and making many-layered pop-up paper constructions.

“His show-and-tell session was electrifying, the most inspiring talk I’ve heard. The audience applauded and applauded—they just couldn’t stop. There was a lot of hugging, too, as if people hoped to catch some spark of his.




“Paul himself is modest, low-key, soft-spoken, undemonstrative. Except that as he talked, something extraordinary began to happen: a quiet passion seemed to take possession of him and spill over into the audience, too.

“I was completely carried away by the story of how he discovered paper—he said he didn’t notice it until he was 45, and then he couldn’t help but change his life—his endless fascination with the possibilities in a single sheet of paper (“I didn’t add anything, I didn’t take anything away, but look what it turned into! I think this must be Zen.”), his work habits, his love affair with color, his belief in book arts as a compelling path to literacy for children.”



Paul Johnson has an international reputation for his pioneering work in developing literacy and visual communication skills through the book arts. He is author of over fifteen titles including A Book of One’s Own, Literacy Through the Book Arts and Pictures and Words Together (all published by Heinemann,USA.)  Recent teaching tours include Sweden, South Korea and Thailand and he regularly teaches in the USA.


Innovative educator and successful book artist, the work of Dr Johnson can be found in the collections of the Tate Gallery, London, the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York, the National Gallery, the Library of Congress, Washington DC, and many US universities including UCLA, Berkeley, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Yale and Harvard. His work was selected for the Stand and Deliver USA touring exhibition of pop-up editioned books, as well as the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild’s, The Art of the Book touring exhibition  for which he also received the guild’s Book Art Colophon Award. He is on the UK Craft Council’s select list of British designer-makers.




Johnson studied at Norwich School of Art and Rabindranath Tagore’s University of Santiniketan in India. When he was and art educator at the Manchester Metropolitan University in the late 1980s Paul Johnson inaugurated The Book Art Project, the main focus of which was to teach writing to children through the book form. Since then he has made books with over 200,000 children and over 25,000 teachers worldwide.

Paul Johnson says, ‘It was seeing the sculptural bindings of Phillip Smith over thirty years ago that inspired me to look beyond the book as something to read.’

pauljohnson_05In the Designer Bookbinders autumn series of lectures presentation, Paul Johnson shared his life experiences as book artist and teacher. It was simply delightful “eye candy” to see several of his unique carousel pop-up books: first in the flat-pack state, then assembled into the 3D form. An added joy was hearing how these books inform the pop-up books that children – some as young as four years of age – make in his workshops.

pauljohnson_06More information


Design studio Angel Bomb’s exquisite Worker B Candles

Angel Bomb's Worker B designs

Angel Bomb’s Worker B designs

A stationery and packaging design junkie, I could only drool at the elegant hexagonal candle packaging, by design studio Angel Bomb, with its intricate laser cutting, and the ability to be tessellated together, reflecting the awesome work of the bees that produced the wax for these candles.

Angel Bomb's Worker B designs

Angel Bomb’s Worker B designs

Thia Shi Min highlights these lovely designs from Angel Bomb on designtaxi.com where the beautiful Nightshift Blue French Paper was treated with a subtly darker ink, a stunning contrast to the yellow of the beeswax candles inside.

Design Studio Angel Bomb said of this project:

“When we started developing packaging, we decided to focus on the bee’s process of collecting wax. Layered with different elements of the process, custom illustrated flowers climb around the label over the top of a laser cut honeycomb pattern. This movement alludes to the cycle the bees go through to collect this wax throughout their entire life.”

Angel Bomb's Worker B designs

Angel Bomb’s Worker B designs

Read Thia Shi Min article on designtaxi.com http://designtaxi.com/news/364342/Well-Crafted-Hexagonal-Candle-Packaging-That-Can-Be-Tessellated-Together/

Check out the Angel Bomb website for more information about this project and more of their work http://www.angelbomb.com/design-worker-b-candle