My hand picks up a newspaper one morning, holds it and turns its pages. Grips hold of the pole shaped objects to get off the moving bus, brings the newspaper with me inside the studio. The hand is the perfect shape to grip, rip, hold. The cold has tinted the ends of my hand ever so slightly blue, echoed by the remnants of a thin blue circle around the bottom of one of the fingers, left there by the reaction of a metal ring against my skin. And there are my veins peeping slightly through the skin carrying blood into each individual finger. Nature stains me blue. On the bus I’d looked from my hands to those of others, not so much to compare their blueness, but their movements, as Rose calls it their betrayal of the face. Emotions will forever be found hiding in the formation of one’s hands.

A cold stone rests against the dirty, hard surface of another hand. A hand aged by what life requires of it. One of the first hands to take from the mouth the duties that once belonged to it. Relinquishing its need to latch, bite and tear. The coolness and harshness of the stone probably feels less pronounced than to softer hands of softer futures to come. Hands of the future will need to make up their own connection to stones, a connection that belongs to the mind and imagination. Hands of the past need no fictions, as they grip a stone they need to survive. The stone fits more awkwardly in this hand than it does in mine, it hasn’t evolved to fit its sharp sides in the way mine has. We used stone tools for millions of years, giving our hands the time to adapt around them. ‘Tools’ come and go in a matter of years today, halting any slow bodily changes.

Evidence shows that 1.5 million years ago stones were not only intricately carved with ridges for sharpness, but they were also sharpened and cared for. A stone is a tool that a hand was forced to form around, a tool today is designed to comfortably fit inside a hand. Before we altered tools, our tools altered the shape of us.

These stones that were held by the first ever sapiens still exist in the world, maybe ground down over millions of years by erosion to become grit, sand, earth, atoms, powder ingested along with something else to become part of an insect, that insect eaten by a bird or an animal, that animal eaten by another animal, and then perhaps eventually eaten by me.

Myself, created from borrowed materials, solely from earth’s currently unwanted objects, until my time is up and they need to be returned. I am back in the studio, ripping the newspaper that bares today’s insignificant date with bare hands, the warmth returning, flushing out the blue. Ripping the paper into a bowl of water to soak until the information and time stamp have disappeared. Into the mix goes a handful of blue pigment and then back in to mix with my hand. Once pulped and squeezed tightly, a blue stone in the shape of my hand’s grip is produced. My hands completely and artificially blue’d by the pigment, which will remain there, clutched to the corners of my nails for a few insignificant days.

The most important ingredient in paper pulp is water. It comes into the process in the first stages where the wood that's used is the wood that pulls water up the centre of the trunk. Its broken down with water. Eroded by it until it is left as pure fibres, the fibres re-sealed in a thin sheet to form paper, and then broken by the return of water to form new paper or to form objects with pulp. Water is the living element that brings this static, organic being to life, then retracts it again. But to heave out resources as fast as we want to has an opposite reaction, we are squeezing earth like squeezing the pulp dry, without a bucket to catch the water. Our dependence on water in so many industries, from paper making to clothing to farming, has pushed earth too far.

I was raised in what felt like the very heart of the countryside, with no shops or train stations particularly nearby. A house that sits on an unnamed road, and backs onto several fields before a large hill covered in ancient woodland. The woodland is in flux, constantly evolving in the same way year round, as leaves turn from green to orange and back again. An oroborous; an endless cycle. But there is another journey of time at play inside the trees, a longer one, we’ve watched as the Ash trees lost their leaves, and awaited the return that never came, in a sad event that’s come to be called Ash Die Back. I’ve lived on this unnamed road in front of the big hill for 20 years.

The landmarks near our home are a grit box one mile down the road east, and a ford one mile west. These two landmarks have been subject to multiple local debates, conquests and trials. It’s a small and unique sort of politics. The ford is our most special place. It's the point that the river first meets a road; at an early enough stage of its journey to the sea, that the amount of water it contains is not so big that it would cause trouble by flowing directly over it. The first junction of nature meeting man. Nature interrupting a man made structure, or vice versa. I'm unsure how many people notice the presence of the ford, but for us living near such a point is momentous.

The road provides two small ecosystems for the river either side of it where it drops back into the landscape. One side of the ford is a sort of pool, where frogs spawn and tadpoles begin life. Miniature insects surround it and once a year spawn on top of the pool. On another day all of the baby frogs when large enough hop across the road, to the confusion of timely walkers, or to the horror of cars who might find themselves accidentally squashing them. Its prehistoric, like the rocks and earth have been there forever, untouched. But that’s not true, since these ecosystems are new in the grand scheme of geological time. Ever since humans began settling in these areas and sculpting the land to their own needs the path of the river has been redirected many times. And what about the water flowing through the river, where and how far has this water travelled across the earth since the very first signs of life after the void of chaos.

The ford

On the other side of the road is a fast flowing, miniature waterfall that picks up speed as the water tumbles down the roughly laid, falling tarmac, it drops about a foot, and continues this new speed across the low flowing thinner channel, through larger rocks and mossy sides. This new lease of life, provided by the dropping road, is a stark contrast for any critters having found themselves pulled out from the pooly paradisal abyss and over the tarmac-ed road. The river now flows with its new road-given energy out to the sea, yet disappears into the trees either side of the road, leaving those who know the ford so well, unsure of its onward journey.

Its strange to think that you can feel such ownership and love of a place, but know so little of its larger picture. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, the ford and the Rother are not untouched by the myriad problems facing the world. No small and un-wanting corners of the earth are left un-stretched by human demands. Soil erosion creates a large problem, not the slow-paced eternal soil erosion of natural landscapes, but a faster more cynical kind. And as the only home of wild claw crayfish in the area; these strange un-earthly beings have become endangered. Local groups of people dedicate their lives and careers to protecting these rivers, and studying the small but important ecosystems that live there. But I certainly have never delved too deeply into our pure and safe-from-the-world patch of water.

Take the curious Fairy Shrimp. Within the woodland behind our house, on top of the high hill, peer into the lumpy, seemingly desolate mud, to find the home of the only British species of this mysterious shrimp (Chirocephalus diaphanus). They inhabit small puddles and can survive as eggs when water disappears and mud dries out. They’ve been found elsewhere in the world, often making their home in extreme places, like antarctic ice or dry deserts. These versatile creatures seem more at home in Paleozoic times, long before humans, apes or dinosaurs appeared. When the hill and ford were filled only with ingenious and independent critters, reliant on a minuscule fraction of the resources that humans have come to ‘need’. Should humans be taking head from the Fairy Shrimp. Need less, want less. If we are to survive this messy time then is looking to the past, further and further back our only option?.

The Fairy Shrimp

That puddle water, with enough rainfall might make its way down the sharp slopes of the hill and into the beginnings of the Rother. Hundreds of trickling flowing channels head to the calm pool in their wait before crossing the road and embarking upon a journey to the sea. Once at the sea the cycle continues, as it sits among a huge mass of foreign waters. Old and new, from around the world, mingling to create warmer and cooler patches. It shifts, constantly moving through the ocean for over 3,000 years, passed by jellyfish, whales, sharks and pods of fish. When warm weather strikes it becomes weightless, an out of body experience as it is lifted up out of its own self, looking down at the growing blueness of the sea below, becoming part of the atmosphere, the soul of the water. For less than ten short days, water is the sky, shooting and bumbling, encountering other body-less souls, looking down on the rest of itself, at water bodies living physically on earth. I wonder if this is where the name body of water stems.

The time eventually comes again for the cycle to continue, and the eternal forces combine to pull and heave it back down to the overworked grounds below. Pulled quickly alongside more droplets, witnessing and feeling the body reappear, a reincarnation. Feeling that rush of re-becoming. And then plod, bouncing off the leaf of a new area, a tree, a puddle, the sea, the return to earth, to ground, to terra. A new terra. Like the fairy shrimp the cycle continues on Earth’s terms. This earth will look very different to the water who has been out of touch, trapped by the sea for so long, or maybe this change was visible from the sea, with less and less encounters with sea-faring creatures each year. Also like the fairy shrimp, water inhabits, and has lived within all corners of the earth, for varying lengths of time. Water plays the long game. Often the slow game. A water particle in the oldest Antarctic ice sheet might have been there for 2.7 million years.

There has been a long tradition of diary writing throughout history. This human-paper relationship is usually a daily and confessional interaction. People openly share with paper their most personal thoughts and feelings, or ideas and plans for the future. Traditionally, it is the information on paper that is given the highest status, the paper itself merely a vessel for this. Since working with paper pulp, I have been treating the paper object as a diary, through removing written information in its entirety. Any original value is now detracted, and placed upon the material. Despite this removal, and the harsh language surrounding ‘pulping’ - it is not a destructive act, but a shift in focus. This all led me to question whether paper can be used as a diary without words, and what this would mean. In this presentation I will explore how the act of hand making or pulping paper in a post-industrial age creates a new relationship with the material. I will also examine why we cherish information as opposed to paper itself, and what this tells us about our relationship to materials.

An artist I’ve been looking at recently, whose work made me think of the way paper draws us in to share our secrets, even without a pen, was Joel Fisher. I have chosen two works by him that relay this idea.

Firstly, on the left. While pulping and making paper, he noticed pieces of himself were accidentally entering their way from him into the pulp. Instead of clearing these away, he decided to do the opposite, to make them the most important part of the work. A hair here, a piece of fluff there, all evidence of himself, that he was there, that this paper is a part of him, and he it.

Secondly, on the right. a room is filled with freshly made sheets of paper, created by the artist. He gathered 7 years of his own unsold paper works and pulped them all down, then turned them into new sheets of paper, devoid of any previous imagery. Time stands still in this transformative piece. I want to specifically note two points: 1. due to the nature of pulping, that very information still remains inside the work, only it is now jumbled up and invisible. 2. They were pulped in the order that they were created, and displayed that way too, chronologically, by time, reminding me of the way a diary is kept. When pulping your past or your present, time merges together, it becomes one, stands still, and immortalises.

Either through text, drawing, writing on it, or reading from it, we often engage with paper in a ritual-like daily routine. That any of these interactions can be pulped down, information visually detracted, combined as one or jumbled up, is symbolic and personal. To take all of these moments and make them one, is like watching the process of the world. Like paper fibres, atoms make their way from thing to thing continually, the food we eat and the air we breath become us. Even our own bodies are recycled in this way throughout our lifetime. Fibrous reincarnations through pulping highlight this organic, alchemical process, visually.

The status of pulp is always provisional - it can be dissolved and reformed - its lifecycle is organic. Circular. Its state is solid and fragile, permanent and temporary. It will always be capable of becoming something new, yet this is a reminder of how ‘not new’ it really is. A new object made from pulp will forever contain only fibres from an old one. Limited to forever being a copy. Pulp allows the ability to keep moments of time in your life forever. To combine them with new moments, or restrict them to a period of time as Fisher has done.

Oliva Bax makes large sculptural objects out of paper pulp, with free ‘found’ materials. Unlike Fisher, the found papers are not symbolic personally, yet she feels a deep connection to the materials they become once pulped. As with Fisher, her process is hands on and repetitive. She is forming a relatively simple object through a quiet and reflective act. Yet the process requires a deep understanding and connection to material. She builds handmade filtration systems to drain the vast amounts of water used in pulping paper. While drying; pulp is constantly dripping, moving and evolving, becoming even more alive. Wrestling and caring for the material. Bax speaks about the importance of seeing the marks of her input in the pulp of her large scale sculptures. Seeing oneself imprinted in the material. These marks are left and become the surface’s patterns. Paper pulp is a mirror reflecting back at you, showing you where you have been, and leaving a trace of you stilled by time. The material is capable of telling a story. And these traces, as both Bax and Fisher have chosen to do, can be left as part of the object’s history.

Most paper made in the post industrial era is detached from this human process. Machines aren’t able to feel the process, pulp by hand or sense when it is ready. So making paper in this slow and personal way takes on new meaning now. It is no longer necessary.

Machine-made paper is rarely desirable as an object, but is purely a temporary vessel, or receptacle for current use. A vessel for value, a vessel for culture, a vessel for ideas. A carrier for something else. Impregnated with information. Not valued for itself, but for what it is capable of. It’s ironic impermanence and fragility, feeds the permanence of culture. Pulping it removes all such information, all cultural relevance, yet strengthens its material structure. Once the wealth of information is removed, the silence that is left feels even quieter. What remains is purely personal. When handmaking paper in the way I have been speaking about, whoever gathers the papers is gathering papers that they have come into direct contact with. Unavoidably telling a story of that specific person. Pulping highlights the circular nature of paper production, and for a moment or forever wipes the slate clean to make way for a new story, one with many previous stories invisibly inside it, and many more visible on its often marked surface.

Once the lens into knowledge and culture is removed, a new lens appears, one turned back towards whoever encounters it.

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