From paper to… paper

They are not works of literature, nor do they serve to illustrate images.

Rather, they represent a product that is all but ostentatious at its origin, yet with a history that is thousands of years old. A necessary and modern item. Catalogues about paper illustrate the types, colors, consistencies and typographical features of this element, and are today created to be veritable works of graphic design – some would even venture to say artistic design!

Davide Lorenzon

We live in a world made of paper! All around us, not everything, but many things are designed and built on paper. The very choice to read this issue of Perini Journal leads us to touch paper in a different grammage, consistency and quality. An edifying panorama, physical and tactile, developed on an element that has always been neutral, but that has recently also acquired some highlights. An element that is, in any case, easy to manipulate and serves as support for a given project. The conversion of paper into “something else” constitutes a treat for the eyes, something totally necessary for future culture. By presenting itself and diffusing itself through paper, the “something else” serves to underscore the millenary history of paper and confirms its eternal usefulness.

THE METAMORPHOSIS OF PAPER in certain creations transforms the element into meta-language. From a flat, white, printed sheet, through the proper folding procedures we obtain a stylish bag, spacious and sturdy, that may also be used to transmit brands and messages that indicate perhaps a certain purchase trend. Different papers placed one on top of the other, punched and printed, exalt our tastes and our curiosity for the packaging and its contents. One sheet after another filled with letters printed in black ink is a book, without words it is a notebook, if it contains only images it is a catalogue, with dated spaces an agenda. Recognition is bestowed on parchment paper. Labels, money, armchairs, pencils, confetti, aesthetic covering, soundproofing… and how indispensable is it in the most intimate places of our homes with its softness?

When recycled, it returns to life in a creative game, even more sophisticated than before, and eco-compatible, too! It can be made from almost anything: rags, straw, algae, plastic, flowers, mineral powders, laboratory chemicals … Following any kind of public event, we walk on it and flatten the thousands of forms in which we have used it. We exchange it in the form of business cards. It travels the world through the postal system. It is symbolically folded to make origami, assembled in 3D form, collected in innumerable artifacts. It can be poetically made to fly. Still today, nothing gives us the same feeling of security as our signature on a contract printed on a piece of paper – the contract is made decisive and can be proven at any time. We cannot eat it, but it is useful in protecting and containing food, whether this be hot, cold, greasy, dead or alive. And many are the clichés and proverbs that have to do with paper: to put something down on paper, a paper tiger, fits like wallpaper on a wall, can't find his/her way out of a paper bag... And it is the Eastern world, more than the Western one, that has turned paper and its world into a veritable philosophy. For some people, it is an educational, professional and artistic leit motif that spans across their entire life. Basically the concept of “we cannot do without it” is valid for almost everyone, and this is due both to its low production costs as well as to its many uses that we tend to take for granted. Our daily world is full of paper and we do not even realize it!

Engravings and markings using embossing stamps, gold plating, opalescence, iridescence, metallization… on paper, everything is a creative selection connected to meanings. But even the means of support itself – paper – today contains the same matrices, in a continual research for commercial and aesthetic strategies and logic which are by no means to be regarded as of secondary in importance.

PAPER THEREFORE REPRESENTS A CHOICE; one made through careful attention by the communication and service providers, and one that for the user represents an ally with which very often, perfect agreement may be found, both physical and intellectual. Without exaggerating, we can say that paper is one of the very few truly ethical elements, a product with a clean aspect, light weight and refined features. An extremely useful element for everyone for the “weight” it carries in the shaping and building of ideas. For all these features, in today’s modern world paper is placed at the center of a continuous design and multiplication process, distributed in an array of formats, grades, substances, grammages, consistencies, reflections of light. Industrial research has led to patented models and personalized watermarks for the user and – just like a company producing goods to be distributed – offers the creative, inventive mind an infinite array of paper types, appropriate for every macro and micro operational nuance, both in graphic and papermaking terms. The choice of this material to support the idea is necessary for the design distinction of the product and must be made also in view of the aesthetic effect and practical use. But how? How does one decide the support that will enhance the value of the thought that becomes physical object, goods for exchange, packaging that adds value and possesses prestigious prerogatives?

PAPER IS CHOSEN BY UNFOLDING IT, TOUCHING IT, LOOKING AT IT THROUGH LOOSE-LEAF BINDERS, SAMPLE BOOKS OR, EVEN BETTER, catalogues that diffuse the object/concept and become themselves an indispensable vehicle for the development of creative ideas and communication proposals. Built on paper and used for paper, despite being “mere” service means and work instruments, these catalogues feature finishing touches and consistencies that increase the preciousness of paper and contribute to diffusing the cultural message in an orderly and explicative fashion. To inspire the designer’s choices, anticipating graphic design trends or original coordination and matchings between different supports, paper catalogues become veritable editorial works of art or precious volumes. An inventive logic that, through the example of “what could be made” or “what could be obtained” and even “how it could be printed”, tends towards the detachment of the means of support from the final product with often veritably supreme results. But the many types of paper that are involved in the infinite range of human activities, used when a society becomes civilized and directed towards the exchange of information, cannot be contained in just one single catalogue. And so the diversification of the means of support for the different uses – whether these be artistic, exclusive, whether they concern packaging or correspondence – is expressed by theme or ad hoc in individual catalogues having a different intrinsic value. And some of these are even numbered!

SINCE IT IS BASICALLY A PRESENTATION OF PECULIARITIES, THE CATALOGUES BEAR ALL THE CHARACTERISTICS OF A CONTAINER OF VERY ARTICULATED DESIGN, often ambivalent in supplying examples of use and placing the object on demonstration. Different shades, colors and thickness are grouped and expressed in logical sequences called “collections”, almost as if to increase preciousness. They are updated frequently according to chromatic needs dictated by fashion. Technical guides, graphic tables, informative cards and table listings for symbols complete an important and professional page layout scheme, which sometimes borders the scientific approach.

Offset, typography, serigraphy, thermography, hot branding, cutting, ribbing, punching and gluing are techniques used for the paper catalogues as well as for the products to be made from the paper itself. They are used to model it, as an idea to present its potential with enclosed CD-ROMs that engage the user in different multimedia paths through this specific environment. And there are special papers for digital purposes, too. A sort of communications design for a medium where human expression is extended and distinguished and goes beyond simply informing about its contents.

Even though changes in tastes and working procedures cause these instruments, too, to be constantly under the reflectors of perfectionism and in continuous evolution for what concerns forms and materials used, some of these works can still be found on many bookshelves. Despite being worn and outdated, they serve as proof that besides their utility and the continued use of certain types of paper, these catalogues are still considered great works of style. And it seems that the strategy of modern papermills has focused on style and contents. On the one hand, these mills produce supports that are useful for the product’s expansion; on the other, they sponsor or incorporate the work of cultural and creative organizations that cater to the traceability of modern visual communication. In so doing, they assume the responsibility and the difficult task of pushing towards innovation in information and concrete use, both concepts which inevitably pass through this consumer good.

PAPER ARTIFACTS ASSUME THE ROLE OF RESEARCH MODEL FOR THE DIFFUSION OF THE OBJECT. For example, the works of famous artists and emerging designers are printed on the “latest born” type, fruit of strong industrial research; the reproductions of historical books on a support that is as similar as possible to the original one; the sponsorship of thematic periodicals, printed on paper that varies according to the theme treated; paper gadgets and mailings that introduce themselves even though they are announcing something else; tailored advertising that describes the ad hoc offer made for every diverse need; thematic “boutiques” opening up in the European capitals; competitions for “the young generation” for the creation of the brand and the public image of a new product. It is no longer just the editor, the creative agency, the individual artist, the limited-edition typography that exalt and sponsor the paper, but those who actually produce it, fill it with contents and diffuse its excellence through catalogues. It is the tip of a colossal market iceberg.

With product novelties and the great variety in presenting them, it is clear that all market goods have their own economic and social continuity. Even though it is a very light-weight one, the world of paper totally absorbs and adds to our tastes, whether they be of the intellectual, custom or usefulness realm, almost as if all that we are and all that we will be were concentrated on its surface allowing us to gradually assimilate it.

This is why explaining the use of the medium paper and its many forms of diffusion that mediate and sustain ideas is useful in understanding a millenary invention that is never an end to itself … not even when it serves as a mere protective covering that – even if wrinkled – beckons to reveal what lies beneath it. •

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