So, here we are a month into the new year and I'm just now getting caught up. First it was getting ready to go to China, then it was being in China, then it was being back from China and getting caught up, which somehow elided right into teaching six classes last semester and subbing for two more at the end of it, with massive amounts of grading to do at the end of January.
Needless to say, no books got made last year. I did, however, acquire some cool materials and a cat. Not sure how much the cat is going to help (more likely hinder) the book making processes, but every binder should have one. Otherwise, I'm slowly easing back into my regular life, which, aside from hunting for more permanent and lucrative teaching jobs, includes getting out and seeing some art, as well as trying to make it.
In this vein, I took myself off yesterday to see the Museum of Arts and Design's exhibit, "Slash: Paper Under the Knife:" 52 artists, two floors, some pretty amazing stuff, old favorites and new. It was a great chance to see the work of some folks I'm already familiar with (Su Blackwell, Beatrice Coron, Noriko Ambe, Brian Dettmer, Michael Veliquette) and love, but also some folks I wasn't, which is the whole point, really. As much as I enjoyed seeing up close and personal work I'd only seen in pictures, it was even more fun to meet, in person, the work of artists I'd never heard of. No photos allowed, so I can't post any here, but there are some excellent ones at the museum site, and here.
The exhibit is kind of loosely defined: it's not just about cut paper, but about torn paper; shredded paper; cut-and-constructed paper; paper cut with scissors, knives, and lasers; altered books; and book art. There are 2-D and 3-D pieces, both site-specific and not, embellished and plain. It starts in the lobby, where, if you look up you'll see the ceiling covered with large, torn white sheets of paper and a schooner floundering upside down in that sea of paper whitecaps: Andrea Mastrovito's "Non Ci Resta Che Piangere (There's Nothing Left to Do But Cry)". On the 4th and 5th floors, the windows are covered with either one of Beatrice Coron's site-specific works ("Heavens" or "Hells") or one of Mia Pearlman's works, "INRUSH." (Editions of her work "Corona" are on sale in the shop with instructions on putting it together.) Both "INRUSH" and Andreas Kocks "Paper work #935g" remind me of one another in their amorphousness. "INRUSH," in white paper, nestles in the window like a complicated spiderweb while Kock's work in graphite paper splatters across the main wall (and ceiling) opposite the elevators like a huge, textural ink spill.
A lot of the cut paper is what I think of as traditional silhouettes with elaborate, unbelievably intricate designs or enormous scale. Of these, Kako Ueda's "Reciprocal Pain" was the one that really blew me away. What looks at first like a delicately dissected corpse is more like a green man or one of Guiseppe Arcimboldo's paintings. creatures and plant life creep in and out of the lacy entrails and you're not sure if they're organically part of the body, growing out of it in its state of decay, or merely symbolic of the ties between humans and the natural world. It's disturbing and beautiful at the same time.
It's interesting to see how two artists can take the same concepts and work them in completely different ways. A number of artists layer and carve paper in three dimensions, with routers, lasers or the patient X-acto knife, turning out urns, books hollowed out in the shapes of houseplan interiors, or contour landscapes that extend down through the many drawers of a cabinet like a rift in the earth's surface. Paper is both a surface and a sculptural material in this case, whatever is printed on it (if anything) providing the random patterning and coloring. In this case, it's sculpture by subtraction.
But a number of the sculptures were built objects too. One of the more interesting 3D pieces upstairs was Oliver Herring's"Alex," a life-sized and lifelike (complete with cancer surgery scar) foamcore statue of a real person, covered with a mosaic of close-up photographs of that person's skin in various unnatural tones. It's both oddly distancing and incredibly intimate at the same time. The other "built" sculptural work included a corrugated cardboard St. George and the Dragon, a to-scale WWII German tank covered with sheets of Hebrew prayers and cut-out scarab beetles and a huge Rube Goldberg-like construction of faux machinery. Another, Nava Lubelski's "Crush," used tightly wound curls of paper to produce another kind of contour construction, something that was not quite quilling and not quite mosaic.
Books were well-represented too, from the piece by Su Blackwell (which was far more delicate than I'd suspected they would be) to the hollowed out book I just mentioned. Not all of them used words, or used them in the same way. A series of beautifully made tunnel books called "Alien Child" by Andrea Dezsö told a really graphic and odd story in a couple dozen parts, completely without words, while Ariana Boussard-Reifel cut all the words out of book she presented and piled them like a slag heap below the eviscerated paperback as a way of making its contents (a white supremacist text) powerless and illegible. Some pieces were made entirely of words or relied on them heavily.
One of my favorite pieces, Nina Katchadourian's "Finland's Unnamed Islands," was very simple: just a long bracket holding a series of doubled microscope slides between which were cut-outs of tiny islands from an atlas that looked like a stop-motion sequence of growing and shrinking islands. I suppose you could read it as a comment on global warming but it was just visually arresting too.
The takeaway for me was that paper is far more than a surface or even a texture. You can paint it, ink it, color it, cut it, bend it, fold it, staple it, hold it together with glue and tape and paperclips and string, prop it up, hang it, laminate it, punch it, and of course, use it with other media. It's not just something to create art on, but to create art with.