Organic and fibrous in nature, malleable in manifold ways, and durable as it is delicate—these often overlooked yet unique aspects form the fundamental makings of a “handmade” substance that is, in fact, extremely versatile and essential to the creative pursuit and materialisation of concepts and projects that would have otherwise remained inexistent.
For artists such as Eko Nugroho, Han Sai Por, Haegue Yang, Suzann Victor, Shirazeh Houshiary, Ryan Gander, and Entang Wiharso, amongst many others; paper, or rather, papermaking is the art and science of diverse and infinite possibilities that has become the means and an end, leading to impressive creations made of the simplest and most unassuming of materials.
Haegue Yang (Berlin/Seoul) pursued the organic and fibrous character of handmade paper, employing its abilities as a natural binder in the experimental work Spice Sheets (2012). The successful integration of raw spices and paper pulp to produce spiced paper signifies greater historical narratives, like the power of the spice trade and its key to the transformation of civilisations.
Do Ho Suh (South Korea) and Han Sai Por (Singapore) relied on the knitting power of the handmade paper to fasten their thread formations in place in works like Father and Daughter (2013) and Fly Through the Wind (2013) respectively.
Han also channeled the malleable nature of paper to sculpt it in its pulpy stages, producing the highly saturated Tropical Fruits (2013) series, which retain the volume and detailling of her stone sculptures.
Paper’s suppleness has also given way to methods like paper casting, as in the case of Ashley Bickerton’s (USA) Graffiti Mountain No. 4 (2006), where the pulp took shape with the help of paper moulds that had been cast with cavities to create the impression of depth and layering.
The sympathetic substance inspired artists like artist duo Wu Shanzhuan & Inga Svala Thorsdottir (China/Iceland) and Ryan Gander (UK) to produce relief works. Gander’s Seriously Retinal/Serious Poke (2014) references Henri Matisse’s paper cut-outs (which saw him cutting into living colour as a culptor carves into stone). While Mattisse drew with scissors, Gander printed with rulers. In both instances, paper proved to possess various densities, either as “flat-out chromatic intensity” (as art critic Robert Hughes described of Mattise) or material of depth.
For Suzann Victor (Singapore/Australia), paper became sculpture—an object in its own right. Holding 2 (2015) is a thoroughly textured work that traces the very materiality of paper through its various states, from pulpy start to firm finish. And paper is anything but passive in works like Little and Without Tears (2015) by Victor, Ujung Sangkut Sisi Sentuh #04 / Suspended Forms #04 (2012) by Handiwirman Saputra (Indonesia), Hathiya/Elephant Cloud (2011) by Shambhavi (India) and The River is Within Us (2016) by Shirazeh Houshiary (UK). Coloured paper pulp became liquid paper-paint that was scooped and poured onto acrylic surfaces to highlight its tactile properties in Victor’s hands. Saputra played with the polarities inherent within paper itself— combining the translucent lightness of paper with his denser paper pulp drawings. This same material that was carefully laid by Shambavi in the construction of his "paper pulp paintings", received different treatment under Houshiary, who employed paper’s thinness to expose intricate details of pigment and stamped texts when lit.
The alchemies within the STPI workshop led Eko Nugroho (Indonesia) down the track of developing paper that is durable, therefore wearable. Sheets of coloured abaca handmade cotton paper (abaca: known for its strength and resistance) were further strengthened with konnyaku, a Japanese root-based gelatine, lending the material resilience despite its soft texture. On the other end of the spectrum, works such as the series The Eternal (2014) by Teppei Kaneuji (Japan) displays the sharpness of paper when cut and strewn.
Perhaps none surprises more than Haegue Yang’s Non-Folding series as far as paper’s properties are concerned. The series alludes to origami (ori – fold, kami – paper), the most accessible and known form of paper art that is held together permanently by the mere dexterous folding of paper, no other mediums. Foldability – as according to book culture author Nicholas A. Basbanes, is the “industry standard to measure strength” and Richard Deacon (UK) explored this to the fullest extent with his sculptural work Beware of the Dog #1 (2012).
Press release courtesy STPI - Creative Workshop & Gallery.