“A prayer to the future”: The process behind the handmade recycled book designed to be read in 1000 years
The Ho Chi Minh City-based agency Ki Saigon takes us through Letters to the future, a series of letters to our great-great-great-grandchildren as told through recycled plastic.
- Jyni Ong
- 27 September 2021
After hearing that every single piece of plastic ever made still exists on this planet, design agency Ki Saigon wanted to do something about it. Based in Vietnam, the studio came across this information while watching the documentary, A Plastic Paradise. “Hearing this,” the agency’s creative director Kumkum Fernando tells us, “we made a connection to the thought that a simple piece of plastic would be around when our great-great-great-grandchildren are born, a thousand years from now. And so, in light of the fact it takes a thousand years for plastic to decompose, Ki Saigon launched a self-initiated project to raise awareness on the matter. “We thought this was almost like a time capsule,” adds Kumkum, and in turn, Letters to the future came about.
Bringing one of its favourite clients on board, Pizza 4ps (a chain of restaurants in Vietnam), the collaborators launched the ambitious task of creating an art project which seeks a visceral reaction from the viewer. First, the studio and Pizza 4ps asked family and friends to write a letter to their own great-great-great-grandchildren to be read in a thousand years. Over four months, Ki Saigon collected these letters from all over the world, circling from Australia and Argentina to Japan, Israel, the Maldives, Mongolia, Tibet, Thailand, Sri Lanka and the USA. Teaming up with local recyclers to collect the plastic needed for the book, the book then brings together a range of materials including styrofoam boxes, bubble wrap, plastic bags and plastic sheets to use as the base material.
“There was a lot of trial and error” when putting the book together, says Kumkum. For starters, what does one say to their future family members? Ki Saigon decided to provide a guide for the letters, asking each participant to imagine what they would like to hear from them, given the fact the book will still be around in 1000 years. Each letter is also hand written, adding another dimension to the project while “staying true to the spirit of the project.” With a dedicated full time team of staff, each letter was carefully digitised, then translated into English if it wasn’t already. The letters were then exposed onto silk screens and used to print onto the plastic pages of the book. An illustration accompanies each letter, filling the pages of the entirely handmade book beautifully stitched together.
When it came to choosing the right materials for the purpose of the book, Ki Saigon spent some time experimenting. Eventually, the designers discovered that you can simply iron together different plastics using a regular iron and baking sheets. Following YouTube tutorials detailing the hand crafted methods, through trial error, the studio realised that plastic bags held the key for creating a similar paper-like substance. By ironing together a mix of bubble wrap, bags, raincoats, tarps and other kinds of thin plastics, Ki Saigon created a beautiful amalgamation of plastic textured patterns. In the end, each page looked like an individual work of art in and of itself, created through a meticulous process which involved the studio teaming up with local recyclers to collect the materials. “In Ho Chi Minh City,” says Kumkum, “there are many recyclers that go around on bicycles collecting plastic, cardboard and metal. These recyclers collect discarded waste and sell them by the kilogram to collection points.”
As there is a small collection point near the studio, the designers met with local recyclers to discuss the type of plastics needed for the projects. “Not so surprisingly,” the creative director adds, “it didn’t take too long to collect the plastics for this project.” After these were collected, each piece was washed and divided into colours, arranged into a combination ready for ironing and trimming to create the final pages. Hand bound with plastic string also made by plastic bags, the culminating book is a true one-of-a-kind in both aesthetic and concept.
“We wanted to create an emotional connection with the reader and the plastic they use,” Kumkum adds on the ultimate intention of the book. “A connection that would make them feel that the plastic we mindlessly use has a life of its own after it’s out of sight. A life that lasts hundreds and hundreds of years.” The emotional letters which fill its pages wish for peace and happiness in the times to come. Some share personal memories while others depict scenes of ordinary life for their future descendants to reflect on; scenes filled with blue rivers, elephants, forests and wildlife. The creative director finally goes on to say: “since most of the letters wished for optimism and peace for the generations to come, we thought that this book is almost like a prayer, so the first page of each book starts with: ‘This is a prayer to the future’.”
GalleryKi Saigon: Letters to the future (Copyright © Ki Saigon, 2021)
Ki Saigon: Letters to the future (Copyright © Ki Saigon, 2021)