Radha Pandey’s “Taxonomy of Shapes”April 10, 2015
In the first part of this series, we met AIE Artist’s Book Resident Radha Pandey, an Indian-born book artist and papermaker whose love of materials, technical precision, and fascination with nature drive her work. She continues to explore human relationships to the natural and manmade world in her newest book, Taxonomy of Shapes.
“What would our world look like if everything around us, from slices of pie to octopodes, were identified and categorized according to three simple geometric shapes?”
In between sand-colored covers, Radha Pandey’s Taxonomy of Shapes puts forth this radical principle—organized by the humble circle, square, and triangle. The contemplative book introduces an alternative way of understanding the environment around us, and upsets the logic (or rather, illogic) of scientific classification.
“What else could we be doing using our visual senses?” Radha asks. Citing Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and systemic changes in Linnaean taxonomy, she is fascinated by how historical models of the natural world fail to encompass its complexity. So she playfully developed her own system.
Through scientifically-precise construction, Taxonomy of Shapes organizes a set of hand-drawn pictograms of everyday objects, which are letterpress-printed in subtle gray ink on Sakamoto paper. Geometry frames the entire book’s structure: we first enter the book through a series of endsheets with circular, square, and triangle cutouts framing the title page. Another page turn reveals a grid of minimalist icons, depicting a playfully random assortment, including a postcard, a starfish, a mountain, a rubix cube, and a woman’s hips.
As its name suggests, Taxonomy of Shapes then groups the objects by form on each subsequent page: circle, square, and triangle. (Here, an octopus is in the same category as an onion, a clock, and a ball of yarn.) A translucent, hand-waxed Kitakata overlay with small diecut circular and hand-cut square and triangular windows reveals selected objects from the letterpress-printed sheet beneath. Peering through the waxed Katikata even allows a glimpse of what’s lost by the current classification.
Fitting comfortably between two palms, this pocket-sized guide to a new way of looking is an intimate, tactile experience. The texture of matte Sakamoto, the waxy transparency of Kitakata, and the tack of its pages all mark Radha’s expert craftsmanship and attention to material. Each aspect of the book had to be separately registered for precise alignment.
Its throw-out accordion structure allows Taxonomy of Shapes to expand into full accordion form, its geometry serendipitously mirroring Radha’s shape-driven subject matter. When opened, the Kitakata overlays seem to breathe, expanding and contracting like a fold-out map to create a playful, interactive object. Its folds impose a three-dimensional double ‘V’ over each spread, diagonally dividing the space into quadrants. This structured formal organization compliments Radha’s hand-drawn pictograms—and her argument for an intuitive classification system. And everything fits neatly within the new lexicon of Taxonomy of Shapes.
“The book is about a different way of looking at the world,” Radha says.