Kate fights her fear of ticks. And makes paper from strange ocean plants. #papermaking
During the symposium Objects of Study: Paper, Ink, and the Material Turn, Daniel Heyman and Laura led a demonstration of traditional Japanese papermaking at the University of Pennsylvania. The symposium was focused on the recent shift in art history to a material centered approach to studying objects. In addition to presentations of case studies regarding aspects of materiality in art history, art historians and paper conservators had the chance to experience papermaking, printmaking, as well as access museum conservation labs, museum exhibitions, and print study rooms. The conference began with a Fiber Beating Happy Hour where participants learned about the preparation required before actually forming sheets of paper. Participants then had a chance to make their own traditional Japanese mulberry paper, or washi.
Additionally, we also collected and processed local Philadelphia mulberry that are presumably descendants of trees brought to the city by John Bartram in the eighteenth century
The event was co-organized by Aaron M. Hyman (University of California, Berkeley) and Juliet Sperling (University of Pennsylvania). It was funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, through a partnership of the Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship of Scholars in Critical Bibliography at Rare Book School and the Andrew W. Mellon Object-Based Learning Initiative between the History of Art Department at the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The inaugural Paper Genome Project, Oasis in the Desert was a five week long residency in Bluff, Utah. We set up our Airstream studio and began collecting plants. Russian Olive and Tamarisk were our primary focus. They are invasive, non-native plants originally brought to the Southwest for erosion control and now span the lengths of river corridors throughout the region. These plants had a very different consistency than Japanese mulberry in traditional papermaking.
We added Coyote Willow, a native plant that grows in riparian regions along the San Juan River, and Utah Mulberry, brought to Utah by the Mormons in order to raise silkworms to produce silk. The Utah Mulberry operated most closely to the paper mulberry plants used in Japan and the Coyote Willow became soft and hairlike--unlike any other fiber we had worked with previously. We also explored found fibers, namely abandoned jeans at the local Laundromat. We blended these jeans into cotton pulp, a traditional papermaking material.
Because we were in the desert, we worked mainly outdoors, relying on the sunlight for many of our processes. Processing fibers for papermaking requires a lot of water. Water scarcity was a major focus. Originally, we intended to use river water as our primary water source. Ultimately, we mainly used rainwater that was collected on the property, using approximately 150 gallons of rainwater to process the plants. In forming sheets, we used the river water to fill our vats and suspend the fibers to make paper, returning the strained water to the river after each use.
We were continually reminded of the complicated relationship between non-native, and native plants. On a species collecting and papermaking river trip, we talked to researchers from the US Division of Fish and Wildlife. Though the plants are a non-native species that suck up a lot of water, many animals have come to rely on their fruit as a food source. Birds and coyotes eat them and now they are testing to see if fish eat them as well. While invasives are often seen as detrimental, their longevity in ecosystems allows for adaptations to begin and the line between “good” and “bad” plants becomes blurred.
As part of our residency, we also taught a workshop at the Bluff Arts Festival, a three-day festival with workshops in arts, crafts, and cooking. Our class learned how to pull sheets of each fiber, as well as the relationship of that plant to the local environment. We created our own paper and artwork using these fibers. By the end, Kate was using the pulp to create landscapes and abstract pieces inspired by the desert-scape and Laura was creating portraits by mixing different colors of pulps together, like paint.
Most importantly, this project and the paper we created encouraged us to continue creating paper from different plants around the country and world in order to have our artwork connect more deeply with the places and people from there.