Buddhist Burial Paper Installation by Kathleen Trenchard now at Bihl Haus Arts

Buddhist burial papers of womans suit with acessories and shoes

The idea behind Kathleen Trenchard’s newest exhibition, “Yearnings: An Intersection of the Trivial and Tragic Planes,” actually began 30 years ago, when she began collecting Buddhist burial papers. Now, the artist wishes to share this little-known tradition with a wider audience.

Buddhist burial papers are designed to be burned as a vehicle to reach the afterlife, Trenchard explained. The tradition dates to the Jin Dynasty (200-400 AD). The burning of Joss papers in China is now discouraged as superstitious and a pollutant. However, this paper artform continues to evolve with the latest fashion and technology, to be enjoyed during rituals with, or without, the element of fire, in Asian communities throughout the world.

Traditionally, Joss paper is made in China or Taiwan from coarse bamboo or rice paper, often decorated with seals, colorful designs, and stamps.

The community can view the paper collections of “Yearnings: An Intersection of the Trivial and Tragic Planes,” a Buddhist burial paper installation, which opens with an artist reception from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16 at Bihl Haus Arts, 2803 Fredericksburg Road. The exhibit continues through Dec. 22.

Kellen McIntyre, Bihl Haus Arts executive director, said Trenchard’s exhibit intentionally follows on the heels of Dia de los Muertos celebrations “to share the idea that traditions celebrating death are a common theme across cultures and time periods,” she said.

In this installation, the elaborate paper garments are metaphors for the timeless continuity and recycling of life and death. The installation highlights the beauty of these hand-made, cottage industry creations displayed in a symbolic setting.

As a visitor, you are invited to become part of the cycle of life and death, symbolized by the floating garments. Ring the gong to add the element of beautiful sound, and its connotations of meditation and celebration, to the room flanked by Buddha figures. The aroma of incense and fresh flowers, as well as serving of hot tea, complete the immersion and engagement of all your senses.

Cut paper has been used across the ages by many people for many purposes, the artist said. Examples range from decorations as solace for mourners, to love tokens suggesting the refinement and devotion of the sender.

“My work in paper evolved from a love of drawing and an awe of the traditional Mexican and Chinese art of paper cutting,” Trenchard said, adding that the scale of her work varies from one to two-inch paper cuts, to 18-foot high vinyl window panels. “My drawings now serve as templates which are destroyed in the process of producing cut work. I am exploring the translation of cut paper into more permanent materials such as metal, suede and multi-colored stencils.”

Cut into a single sheet, paper images rely on a web of connectors to hold implied lines and shapes in place. Connectors may be hidden in the imagery or made to stand apart, as in a grid or field that holds the imagery in place. “In some of my work, the elaborate shadow cast by the paper cut is the primary art work created through the interplay of light upon the piece,” she said.

Her works are cut with knives, hammer and chisel, and scissors. “I collect a variety of unique paper, plastic, cloth and wood materials suitable for cutting, while seeking new applications for this unique, yet universal art form,” Trenchard said.

For more information, visit www.BihlHausArts.org or call (210) 383-9723.