Material Assumptions: Paper as Dialogue

Material Assumptions1
This is a project and exhibition I am co-curating with Jessica Cochran, curator of exhibitions and programs, and Liz Isakson-Dado and Hannah King, fellow graduate students, at the Center for Book and Paper Arts gallery at Columbia College this summer.  The exhibition will be on view June 16 – August 11, 2012.

mold and deckle with a vat of pulp

This exhibition is about the discursive ways that artists approach paper as a medium, technology, and tool. Hand papermaking is a process that begins with the raw material of pulp and ends in sculpture, mixed media, and installation. To that end, this exhibition asks us to consider the utility of paper at the site of interdisciplinary contemporary arts and crafts.

The exhibition has two sections, both of which identify the primary role of handmade paper in art as a conceptual and formal “supporting partner,” while making visible its versatility and nuance as a medium. First, we asked interdisciplinary contemporary artists to create new work using abaca and cotton paper we have made at the Center for Book and Paper Arts.

translucent abaca sample

We will be uploading studio and process shots, commentary, and conversations with the artists to the Material Assumptions companion blog throughout the coming months.  We have prompted each artist to participate in a conversation concerning not only the paper itself, but her own creative processes and studio practices: does a new material complicate the artist’s way of making, thinking or working?  It is possible that the resulting works will amplify or expand upon broader tendencies in that artist’s oeuvre, as each project will be crafted out of paper made specifically for the artist.

paper samples: cotton rag, abaca, and cotton linter

A second section features works created by artists in-residence at Dieu Donné, a New York-based non-profit artist workspace dedicated to the creation, promotion and preservation of contemporary art in the hand papermaking process. Artists include Jessica Stockholder, Glenn Ligon, Richard Tuttle, Chuck Close, Polly Apfelbaum, Sonya Blesofsky, Mel Bochner, Ian Cooper, William Kentridge, Beth Campbell and Nina Bovasso. As handmade paper is not a primary material for these artists, their residency at Dieu Donné afforded them an opportunity to see how it could work for them in important ways.

To us “handmadeness” points not to a certain aesthetic or visual trope, but to realms of possibility; for example, subtle combinations of texture and color or a deceptively weightless surface—all in service of conceptual gesture and complex, meaningful expression. In other words, the works on view don’t have to tell us explicitly they’re handmade, because we’re already hooked. As such, Material Assumptions calls into question our expectations of handmade paper in terms of its aesthetic and raison d’être, dynamically affirming its relevance as an interdisciplinary and contemporary artistic mode of activity.

The exhibition underscores the Center for Book and Paper Arts’ commitment to hand papermaking through studio-based practice, experimentation and research.