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Paper making is a diary

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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