World's largest pop-up book popping up in Philly

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A small version of "Tao Hua Yuan Ji." When the project is complete, will be the world’s largest pop-up photo book.

Want to take part in a Guinness World Record-breaking experience?

This month begins the creation of what will be the world’s largest pop-up photo book, unfolding at the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center in Olde Kensington, where visitors are invited to come walk through its pages.

Internationally renowned artist Colette Fu began working on the project, titled Tao Hua Yuan Ji, on Sept. 14; Fu projects it will be completed by Oct. 12.

Until then, visitors can watch the live-creation process at the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center. Fu also will host special “artist at work” hours from 2 to 3:20 p.m. Friday, when she’ll invite the public to ask questions while she works.

Camera icon Courtesy Philadelphia Photo Arts Center
Progress being made on the world’s largest pop-up book.

Once finished, Tao Hua Yuan Ji will remain on display through Nov. 25.

“I didn’t really think about applying for a Guinness [World Record], but I wanted to make something big so that people could go inside the story and feel more like they are actually there,” Fu explains. “The pop-up is like a form of virtual reality.”

Tao Hua Yuan Ji loosely translates to “Utopia: Source of the Peach Blossoms” and is inspired by Chinese Jin Dynasty (317-420) poet Tao Yuanming’s short prose of the same name. One of Yuanming’s most well-known written stories, Tao Hua Yuan Ji tells of a cave that leads to a valley of peach blossoms — the Chinese symbol of luck, love, and longevity — where people seeking political refuge went to live in peace and harmony with one another. The story is said to act as a metaphoric depiction of an unattainable utopia.

Fu’s pop-up design was created to represent the cave in Yuanming’s story and, once completed, will measure as large as 13.75 feet by 21 feet by 58 inches — a record-breaking size.

Visitors will be invited to peer into the cave’s center and also to crawl inside through a four-foot-tall opening.

Constructed using cardboard and gator board, the entire pop-up installation will be covered with enlarged photos that Fu took in China in 2008. A Fulbright scholarship led Fu to China’s southwest Yunnan province, where she worked on photographing the 25 ethnic minorities of the region.

“During that time, I went to this village that people were claiming held the valley talked about in Tao Yuanming’s poem,” Fu said. “To get to the village, you take this stunning boat ride through a cave that sits over the water, which is what I’m now bringing to life here in Philly.”

A large, flat base depicting the water stands as the foundation of Fu’s installation, with a sprawling cave rising on top, interspersed with a ton of pink peach blossoms.

Interactive components with pull tabs and other classic pop-up book features will be featured on the walls surrounding Fu’s cave, and a slideshow of images from Fu’s trip to China will complement the installation.

“People are going to be impressed by the size, but there’s also this deeper meaning with the story,” Fu said. “The villagers pictured in the pop-up established this place seeking a political refuge where they could live in harmony with each other, and I think that’s very relative to what’s going on today. It’s more than just a cute children’s book.”

10 a.m.- 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, 1400 N. American Street #103, philaphotoarts.org/taohuayuanji