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Paper provokes. “Hurt me,” paper says. “It'll be your loss.” The
fragility of paper dares me to destroy it. Tear the wing off a
paper butterfly. Scratch the skin of a paper tiger. Shred a love
letter. Toss a parking ticket. Burn an eviction notice.
Destroying is easy. Creating is hard.
Paper fears a soft flame and a sharp wind, a hard hand and a
light rain. In using paper as a medium, the designer defies the
elements of fire, air and water.
Paper tears, shreds, burns and rots. Paper is weak. Flesh is
weak. Paper decays. Bodies decay. Defiance is one response. Paper
persists, and so do I. Give me one more page. Give me one more
Tangible, by Robert Klanten (Die Gestalten Verlag, 2009), with
spreads of work by Hina Aoyama, who
used only paper and scissors, and by Ball-Nogues Studio, which made
the Rip Curl Canyon out of laminated cardboard atop a plywood
I live, and leave a paper trail: birth certificate, Social
Security card, driver's license, passport. I grow up, and go on a
paper chase: diploma, degree, marriage license, mortgage. Paper
confirms, and paper pursues. Who am I? May I see your
papers? So much depends on paper. And paper is weak. Paper
Yet paper can be anything. Paper is a surface and a thing, a toy
and a tool. Paper is both skin and body.
I kick against progress and embrace the primitive. I unplug the
digital ghost and resurrect the body of paper. I am not digital. I
am human. Paper is my metaphorical flesh, my body light as a wafer.
My skin flakes like paper. Paper wrinkles like skin. I see my veins
branch beneath my skin like dark lines on a lampshade. A paperback
has a spine. Pages have headers and footers. Magazines have
spreads. Their pages absorb the ink of words and pictures and
spread open for my gaze, for my pleasure. Is my mind in the gutter?
Paper is a body for anyone's use. Paper is a whore. Paper wrinkles
and fades. And so do I.
Paper can be surface and representation and thing itself. Paper
can represent a thing, be made to resemble a thing, or be that
thing. Paper can be a picture of a cup, a cutout model of a cup, or
the cup itself. I can twist a ribbon of paper into a word, making
paper into a thing and a representation. I can cut paper into
leaves and branches, into the shape of a tree, recalling the real
tree from which this paper came.
Clockwise from left: An article in the July 2010 issue of O
Magazine featured cut-paper illustrations by Ruven Afanador and
Jo Lynn Alcorn.
Nordstrom Holiday 2009 Catalog with punch-out gift labels by
Lisa Evans and including her
paper birdhouses. A toy spaceship made from cardboard
paper-towel tube. Print ad for Neenah Paper features a punch-out
version of a child's game that advertises the Eames Paper
With the power to destroy comes the responsibility to protect.
Armed to take a life, I am obligated to protect life. Paper insists
on this relationship. Paper puts me in power and asks me to be
responsible. Paper asks me to take care of it. Handle with care. Do
not get wet. Keep away from open flame.
Durability demands harder stuff. Harder stuff does not provoke
me. It resists me. Hulking works of metal and alloy dominate me. I
must be wary of them. I can't hurt them, but they can hurt me. I
have to trust that they will behave. With paper, the relationship
is reversed. I am the one who can hurt, and paper has to have faith
in me. I will be tempted to touch the paper, to leave a smudge or
stain, to crinkle the paper, to tear it a bit, just to see what it
feels like. I crumple it. I end it. Paper asked for my faith, and I
Paper cannot police me. I must police myself.
Papercraft, by Robert Klanten (Die Gestalten Verlag, 2009),
featuring spreads of cut-paper objects, including paper toys and
clothes made of maps.
Paper is skin for the tattoo of ink. Designers, writers and
artists spray their ink, press it and stamp it and needle it into
paper. Paper is cut and bound into the bodies of books, magazines,
notebooks, newspapers. We use paper as a surface for representing
something else, for enduring the tattoos of our words and pictures
and enabling us to send messages to each other, even to the
Paper Captain, by Juliette Cezzar (Universe,
2008). (See also
Paper Pilot and
Paper Astronaut). Bottom row: The
New Millennium Paper Airplane Book, by Klara Hobza (Public Art
Fund, 2009); an origami rooster.
Paper is material. Paper can be a thing made to look like
something else. Designers cut, tear, rip and fold paper into the
shapes of birds, queens, rockets and wedding cakes. Paper can be
material for arts and crafts, for illustration and decoration, for
origami and model-making. The paper model of a boat doesn't float.
The paper shoe can't be worn. The paper cut and curled into a
butterfly will not fly. Very often cut-paper objects are
photographed and printed… on paper.
Unfolded, by Petra
Schmidt and Nicola Stattman (Birkhäuser Architecture, 2009),
including paper objects that work—including lamps, clothes, houses,
jewelry—and wood-like boards made of newspaper.
Paper is the object itself, an object that can be used. I drink
from a paper cup, eat from a paper plate, wipe my hands on a paper
napkin. I blow my nose in a paper tissue. I flip burgers while
wearing a paper hat. I cradle my newborn son while wearing paper
booties. I strike a paper match and light the matchbook on fire. In
this case, to be useful, a thing need only damage itself. Paper
A paper airplane soars. A paper airplane is not a model. It does
not represent a real airplane. It is not a picture of something
else. It is itself. Fold the paper along the dotted lines, crease
the folds and throw the plane. It glides.
I can wear a paper shirt, a paper hat, a paper ring. I can turn
on a paper lamp, and it will light up. Designers have made dolls,
furniture, playscapes and even houses out of paper. Paper can
package as well. Paper can bag groceries and liquor bottles,
envelop mangoes and Raisinets. Packages have an inside and an
outside. Words and images can be printed on their outside surfaces.
Bags and boxes hold real things, but they also show pretty pictures
of other things, which means paper can lie to me.
Clockwise from top left: Kleenex tissue, postage stamps, money,
coupons, lens-cleaning paper, paper bag, box of matches, coffee
filters, paper plates, lint roller.
Some paper blurs boundaries. Paper money is a surface for
printed ornamentation, and it is an object that has value and can
be used in exchange for something else. It is not a model of money.
It is not a picture of money. It is money. It functions as money.
Coupons are another surface for representing something else
(pictures of little cereal boxes and snack foods), but coupons also
function as objects and as objects with value. Paper is value, as
long as authorities agree. Postage stamps, too, and personal checks
are value. Paper value is always limited. Coupons expire. Tickets
are used. The bank account empties. The country is overthrown.
From top left:
There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, illustrated and
designed by Jeremy Holmes
(Chronicle Books, 2009).
I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, With Everyone, One
to One, Always, Forever, Now, by Damien Hirst, designed by
Jonathan Barnbrook, with
paper engineering by Herman
Lelie (Booth-Clibborn, 2005). Pop-Up Architecture, a
monograph by Wendy Evans Joseph (Melcher Media, 2009).
Paper suffers, and paper preserves. In grade school I made
hand-shaped turkeys, lunch-bag puppets, Mother's Day cards of
folded construction paper. I made holiday lumieres and papier-maché
masks. For Valentine's Day I cut hearts out of paper. Now I keep my
kids' art as mementos, tucked in Pendaflex folders. I moved a box
of folders into the bedroom for a while, near a window, and a
corner of blue construction paper poked out. In the sunlight, a
little triangle faded to orange.
Time burns. Flesh wears out.
Paper Cutting, edited by Shufunomoto (Trumpeter, 2010)
Cuts: 35 Inventive Projects, by Taylor Hagerty (Lark,
Wonderland: 32 Terribly Cute Toys Ready to Cut, Fold &
Build, by Michelle Romo (How Books, 2010)
The Art of
Paper Cutting, by Henya Melichson (Quarry Books, 2009)
Scissors: Decorative Paper Accessories for the Home, by
Patricia Zapata (Potter Craft, 2009)
Architect, by Marivi Garrido (Potter Craft, 2009)
Fold, Rip, Crease, Cut, by Raven Smith (Black Dog
Paper Under the Knife, by David Revere McFadden (5
Continents Editions, 2009), from the
MAD exhibition of the same name
Snowflake Art: Designing Original Papercuttings, by C.
Angela Mohr (Schiffer Publishing, 2008)
Cutouts, by Helene Leroux-Hugon and Juliette Vicart
(Firefly Books, 2007)
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