Virtual & virtuous

Paper sculptures: sometimes they are an end in themselves and sometimes they are instrumental to the most diverse activities; sometimes they are more realistic than the original and sometimes they are ironically evocative of what they represent.

We cannot always speak of actual Art… certainly those who see them for the first time remain favorably surprised. And if producing art also means emotion…

Luisa Canovi

In the history of art, when we speak of “sculpture”, we think about materials such as wood, steel, marble and other strong, long-lasting materials. Seldom does the term sculpture evoke light-weight, ephemeral elements such as paper. Despite this fact, in these last few years many artists have preferred this material – apparently fragile and perishable – for their creations. The term “paper sculpture” is now so commonly used that we could write a new chapter in the history of art by adding origami, papier-mâché, clothes, works and sculptures made with extremely poor papers like newspaper sheets or with precious ones like Japanese hand-made paper.

Within the realm of the most curious paper sculptures are figurative works because, with respect to abstract or conceptual works where the material – paper – translates an artistic idea, these reproduce very different subjects and materials. The result is a true-to-life and at the same time unexpected effect.

THE SURPRISE IN BEING ABLE TO RECOGNIZE CLOTHES AS IF THEY WERE MADE OF FABRIC WHEN THEY ARE OBVIOUSLY MADE OF PAPER, catches one as unprepared as a metaphysical work does. In the (apparently) simple stockings and shirts by artist Marnie Burns, there is a long and patient process: on real clothes, a paper paste made of fibers of other clothing reduced to bits is poured and left to macerate. Then the compound is placed between two wooden plates and energetically pressed. In this way, the outline of the piece of clothing but also every minute detail such as buttons, hems, small folds and curls are imprinted in the wet paste. Once dried, the paste becomes a sculpture sheet ready to be finished, colored and ironed.

Completely different is the work of Charlie Thomas. Using sheets of common colored paper, he reproduces real clothes cut out from patterns. When worn by real people, these clothes have an effect that is alienating for its hyper-reality. A theatrical costume would surprise less because pretence is normal in the theater. But in everyday life, everyday clothes should be made out of fabric – making them out of paper leads to unhinging the certainty of habit. Looking at the strange hat designed for a dance show by Kei Ito, we do not experience bewilderment, but rather we admire the artistic invention made for an artistic use.

Entertained regards instead, for the stockings of the Greek artist Pavlos, where the use of thin colored stripes derived from paper waste of typography shops, worked in honeycomb fashion, imitates knitting in an amusing way.

FUN MIXED WITH ADMIRATION for the inventive of artists such as Chris Gilmour who, true to his vocation for recycling, reproduces with incredible precision the pieces of a motorbike by using corrugated board – poor material par excellence. But in this creative reconstruction, it becomes the status symbol Harley Davidson. Or all the more so the French sculptor Vincent Floderer who artistically translates the simple gesture of wrinkling paper to create absolutely beautiful vegetable forms. His mushrooms are more realistic than real ones, but at the same time they are too beautiful to be true.

Refined atmosphere for the composition of white shoes by Susan Cutts. Even though they are absolutely realistic in form, the ensemble seems like a work void of any materialness and physical presence. The shoes are all the same, made on a mould using hand-made paper pulp, and form a composition where they completely lose their physical state and function.

Lastly, some origami sculptures: the monoplane by Mark Kirschenbaum that seems to want to behave like an airplane at all costs. It is made with just one sheet of folded paper with no cuts or glue. A virtuous result, even if a bit forced. A quality also present in the incredible scaly ant-eater by Eric Joisel, French sculptor who uses the technique of origami, exalting it with surprising results. This model, just like many other works of his, is made using a single sheet and hundreds of folds designed to obtain the animal’s scales. Realism mixed with abstractness. In a way, we no longer speak of origami here nor of paper, but of veritable sculpture.

FUN ARE THE ROOSTER AND CHICKEN BY SUSANNE NAKAJIMA, models created for 2005, the year of the rooster.

Rather traditional origami technique to reproduce the elements characteristic of the animal, but re-interpreted in modern key is the rooster’s tail. The game of the two colors obtained by gluing together a red sheet and a white sheet sprayed with gold translates into a drawing that exalts the shape of the tail with a figurative yet extremely essential effect. And again figurative and essential is the small Taurus by Akira Yoshizawa, master of contemporary origami, who through expert essential folds combined with modeling of Japanese paper, exalts the shape and spirit of the animal.

PAPER SCULPTURE AS A VIRTUAL REPRESENTATION OF REALITY? Or virtuosity in representing things? Both theories are valid, just like in the infinite realm of art techniques there are examples of uses of a given material that yield a positive result, and other uses whose result is merely banal works. Virtuous reproduction is the one where we admire the ability of the executor but experience no emotion – sort of like with castles made of toothpicks: a lot of patience but a lot of boredom, too.

Instead, the idea that translates into genial form such as the ant-eater or the composition of white shoes or even the wrinkled mushrooms, is surely on the right road to being virtual. Paper as material represents the means through which the idea takes shape. It may also happen that the work is clearer, more evocative, more exciting than the subject itself. This is where the ability of the artist is not an end to itself but becomes a creative instrument for a feat that can be at times poetic, at times ironic, desecrating, rebellious, spectacular and much more.•

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