There something about uncut paper dolls that draws me in. Itís not nostalgia. Itís the fascination of a subject that is presented as an arrangement of its parts. Itís the mystery of the unstated connections between those parts. The mystery of those parts placed next to each other on a page can potentially create a tantalizing visual poetry.

Gamelike, paper doll sheets promise play based on the relationship between the figures, clothes, and accessories. But paper dolls are only a promise because they take work to be realized as playthings. Paper dolls arenít literal, because they fracture space and time, presenting events occurring at different times and places, all on a few pages strangely discombobulated. And then, poof! The finished set is born of work, and of heartbreak as the pages are cut out and destroyed beyond recognition.

I like the flat space of the uncut pages. And the flat space created by non-overlapping elements from different times and places. Flatness is about putting fragments from many dimensions and compressing them into fewer.

Sometimes making paper dolls is a simple pleasure about taking a figure and making things for it to wear. Other times, making paper dolls is a struggle to fully understand the potential of the medium. I include all cut-out sets here, because paper dolls are part of a larger, cohesive group of amusements.

To start, with respect to paper engineers who fit working parts efficiently and beautifully onto sheets of paper, I want to explore paper dolls as visual literature. That is, each of the elements has a meaning, and the resonances between them must be exploited.

How can we, as paper doll artists, make interesting booklike works that function as both books and cut-out sets? Often, we make our own vision then relinquish it to the recipient for them to play in their own way. If we retain control over the final assemblage, what if our uncut book purposely has a different meaning from the finished set? There are challenges ahead.

Kwei-lin Lum copyright 2004,2005