Paperwork in 3D


Transforming paper into a new dimension

When thinking of paper in connection with art one normally considers it as merely the background on which art—paintings, drawings and prints—is depicted.  But now a whole new group of artists are working with paper in innovative ways, using it as the medium itself, transforming flat sheets of paper into three-dimensional art. A current exhibit at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont, Paperwork in 3D, showcases the ingenious creations of 25 artists working in this new fashion.

The exhibit explores a variety of themes and techniques.  Whether folding, cutting or shaping, the twenty-five nationally acclaimed artists featured explore the sculptural potential of paper, from traditional Japanese origami to paper cutting, from repurposing books to paper engineering. The diversity of the work featured reflects the current artistic interest in this ordinary and malleable material. “These artists stretch the limits of imagination and creativity by working in an everyday, disposable medium and elevating it to art, so much so that the beholder overlooks how the art was made and just sees a work of art. …the paper sculptures in the exhibit are awe inspiring,” says Curator of Design Arts Kory Rogers, who organized the show together with Director of Education and Public Programs Karen Petersen.

Michael Velliquette’s visually and structurally complex paper sculptures include multi-colored card stock which he carefully constructs layer by layer. He incorporates a range of sizes and shapes into his paper environments and constructs, folds and bends these pieces into place.  His detailed artistic process was inspired by the work of monks, some of whom spent an entire lifetime working on one manuscript. Mosaic, relief sculpture, collage, and other paper-crafting traditions inspired Mr. Velliquette, and he has incorporated aspects of these forms into his work.  One piece, “Seeker”, 2010, is reminiscent of Native American masks, but more brightly colored; other seem to reflect the style of Mexican tinwork. In a 2009 interview Mr. Velliquette stated: “These recent pieces of mine are a reaction against the current economic environment…..I wanted my artwork to express abundance and exuberance, and for the viewer to experience an aesthetic of plenitude.  I get a lot of inspiration from visual density, and it keeps me feeling positive and energized.”

Beatrice Coron works mainly in the art of cut paper, specifically tyvek.  Some of her most intricate works, often cut from a single piece of material, feature the creation of situations, cities and whole worlds.   Intricate and fanciful, graphic and whimsical, her art tells stories. Many of her pieces show buildings with windows and activities occurring within them. Ms. Coron says, “In my graphic style, windows are used not to see out but in.” Indeed, observing closely, a viewer will see a beehive of activity(one critic said looking at her art was like looking at an ant farm), silhouettes of people at all manner of work and play. All present, as Ms. Coron describes, a “profusion of individual stories [that create] a coherent universe.” The intricacy of the work is astonishing and it is hard to imagine anyone cutting such small areas into recognizable scenes.

Emma Hardy’s project,  “Packages”, c.2010 inspired by people from her tiny Colorado town, uses kraft paper and brown paper packing tape in a new sculpture technique that she developed in which layers upon layers are added to each other to produce very realistic, tactile and durable life size figures that recall the work of  Duane Hanson; viewers almost expect them to move or speak.  In fact, in some one can vaguely detect a heartbeat, recorded from the original models, and the artist encourages museum goers to touch them.   In “A Shipment in from Borneo,”c. 2011, using cardboard and paper, Ms. Hardy created a life sized orangutan and leopard surrounded by rainforest flora and fauna, a multi-piece work that took five days to install.

Nava Lubelski both destroys and mends, shredding old tax documents and other filed away financial records and reconfigures them into sculptures that look like lacy tree cross-sections.  Her work, as in “1999 Tax File,” 2007 ,re-uses wasted materials, emphasizes the extent of waste and hoarding in modern society, uses material with which a viewer can directly relate, and links the paper back to its original source—trees.

Paper engineer and art teacher Matt Shlian’s engineering and technical skills have led to a collaboration with scientists at the University of Michigan.  His precise method of folding paper creates complex structures that are both art and science. He sees the inquiries of researchers as a basis for artistic inspiration.

Riki Moss, collaborating with Robert Ostermeyer and partnering with him in studio-glow creates illuminated sculptures out of abaca pulp that is extensively beaten, producing curving, voluptuous works inspired by natural and organic forms, such as the 18  foot honeycomb or intestine-like piece, “Tunnel Vision”, 2011.

Several artists in the show apply mathematical precision to paper pleating, transforming single sheets of handmade papers into geometric shapes and natural forms.  Mathematician Robert Lang is recognized as one of the world’s leading masters of the art of origami and his pioneering work helped to develop the technical style of origami.  His complex designs replicating flora, fauna and household objects show great detail and realism. The Zimets of The Zimet Art Project explore the art of origami together as a family.  One member, Jacob Zimet, only twelve years old, who started folding origami at age seven, has now mastered the art and helps teach origami workshops.

Seven artists in the exhibit use books as an artistic medium in diverse ways.  Creating pop-up masterpieces and intricate sculptures, each artist transforms books into visual works of art that still maintain certain characteristics and details that allow the viewer to recognize the books’ original form.  In pieces like “A Looseleaf and Self Revising Reference Work,” 2010, an altered set of vintage encyclopedias, Brian Dettmer recontextualizes everyday objects such as books and maps by altering their physical structure and editing their content.  Working with knives, tweezers and surgical tools, he carves one page at a time, exposing each layer while cutting around ideas and images of interest, re-configuring them into a new form, allowing new meanings or interpretations to emerge.  Paper engineer Matthew Reinhart is especially known for his work with children’s book author Robert Sabuda, cutting, taping and folding paper to create entertaining and educational pop-up masterpieces including such far-flung topics as mythology, science-fiction, comic books and fairytales and uses new kinds of technology. Curator and visual artist Doug Beube alters a book’s structure by piercing, slashing and gouging, creating something new.  He believes that books that no longer serve a general purpose should be donated to book artists who can breathe new life into them and consequently further the book’s original purpose of communicating knowledge and ideas.

PAPER IN 3D remains on view at the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont until October 30th.