Curating as Pedagogy, Paper as Dialogue

-Jessica Cochran

The Center for Book and Paper Arts is perfectly situated within the Interdisciplinary Arts Department—our studios, classrooms, gallery, and offices steadily hum with graduate student and faculty activity; it is an energizing atmosphere, and we are happy to harness not only the students’ enthusiasm, but also their ideas and growing expertise. In January 2012, Assistant Professor Melissa Potter and I initiated an independent study opportunity, for which graduate students could receive three credits for assisting me in the organization of our summer exhibition. From curatorial concept to marketing and installation, each student was granted creative agency in every stage of the process.

I curated Material Assumptions: Paper as Dialogue with assistance from Elizabeth Isakson-Dado (MFA ’13), C. J. Mace (MFA ’12), and Hannah King (MFA ’13). Split into two sections, Material Assumptions features works in handmade paper by prominent artists made while in residence at Dieu Donné. For the second section, we commissioned eleven interdisciplinary artists to create new works out of paper hand made in our studios. Because we have placed handmade paper into the hands of visual artists for whom paper (much less handmade paper) may not be a primary medium, the exhibition asks us to consider that “handmadeness points not to a certain visual or aesthetic trope, but to realms of possibility.”

Consulting with each artist, the curatorial assistants not only produced the paper, but also worked one-on-one with artists to determine the types, sizes, and fibers best suited to each project. In this model, knowledge flows both ways: our students are uniquely poised to share their sophisticated understanding of paper with contemporary artists; in turn they glean from each artist yet a new way the practice of hand papermaking can translate provocatively and meaningfully into ever-wider realms of art production and discourse.

Artists have long immersed themselves in the practice of exhibition making through the creation of artist-run spaces. Increasingly, however, artists are feeling comfortable adapting more explicitly curatorial roles, within both an aesthetic and a professional dimension, hence the ubiquity of the term, “artist as curator.”

To that end, the impetus for adding a pedagogical layer to our exhibitions at the Center for Book and Paper Arts is as much about professional development for our graduate students as it is about artistic growth: professionally, exhibitions are an important public vehicle for display, communication, and education, as we work to “center” hand papermaking within the field of interdisciplinary arts discourse. But for an artist working today, how can the collaborative act of curating someone else’s project translate into a more nuanced consideration of the way one’s own work exists in the white cube—and then in the world beyond it?

In a 2011 lecture called “On Curatorial Intelligence”, curator Kitty Scott identified what she considers ten best practices for working curators. Situated among suggestions about collection building and international research, there were several points that resonated strongly in relation to this project:

Work closely with the artist and provide them with the best conditions possible for their work; listen to them and protect their vision.

Remain open and curious, but at the same time, maintain a critical attitude.

Follow intuition; take risks. Support new work by emerging artists.

Be transparent when teaching others about curating; be prepared to reveal feelings of doubt and complexity.

Generative exhibitions like this one, those that result in the production of new works, are essentially rooted in an “open and curious” approach meant to provide artists with the “best possible conditions” for their vision. At the same time, they leave ample room for chance, and in the process they complicate the role of the curators. Ranging from the most practical of potential issues to the more philosophical ones, we inevitably find ourselves asking—in what Scott identifies as moments of “doubt and complexity”— Will each artist feel satisfied with her contribution? Will the resulting projects work cohesively within the space? What if the finished works feel unresolved, or unfinished?

The same space, however, that allows for small failures and insecurity on the side of both curator and artist, also provides room for the extraordinary. As I write this, the works have not yet been finished, and they will not arrive to the gallery for weeks. Artists’ reports from the studios, however, reveal works in progress that are fascinating and relevant. At present, Kate McQuillen is creating haunting, yet ineffable print transfers of fake weapons sewn into her clothes, in order to express what she considers her “absurd” fears of being suspected a terrorist. Here the handmade paper serves as an experimental printing surface for the artist as she reaches for unexpected aesthetic effects. In her project Other Cities, Susan Goethel Campbell, is currently generating black-and-white relief prints based on aerial views of cities at night and patterns of urbanization. According to the artist, the handmade paper  plays an “important role” as the “object and carrier of the illusion of space,” as “subtle gray values draw from atmospheric phenomena and make use of unique grain patterns found in the woodblock from which the pieces were printed.”

The Center for Book and Paper Arts, like countless small alternative spaces, community arts centers, and research-driven academic galleries, is a center that exists at a margin. We promote and teach complex practices that are often difficult to classify, and are non market-driven and under-recognized by the art world. As such, it is our responsibility to create and offer models for exhibitions that foster experimental and horizontal flows of knowledge. In this case, from curator to student, student to artist, and artist back to student, we have realized a productive dynamic in which, no matter how successful the final exhibition, the process is the outcome.


-Melissa Potter

 Columbia College Chicago’s Interdisciplinary Arts Department is thrilled to collaborate with Dieu Donné Papermill on our summer 2012 exhibition, Material Assumptions: Paper as Dialogue. To create an interdisciplinary learning opportunity, curator of exhibitions and programs for the Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts, Jessica Cochran, and I created a credit-bearing course for three current Book and Paper MFA candidates: Hannah King, Elizabeth Isakson Dado, and C. J. Mace. They participated in all aspects of the exhibition including curation, direction, and hand papermaking production for exhibiting artists. Book and Paper program MFA thesis candidate, Trisha Martin, generously donated her time and outstanding papermaking skills to the project as well.

The project engages the mission of the Interdisciplinary Arts Department, which encourages students to consider art in its relationship to practices including collaboration, discourse building, and education. In the evolving contemporary art landscape, this approach offers new ways to shape and define the book and paper arts, and to consider their importance not only in cultural production, but also in historical and social contexts.

Interdisciplinary Arts students produced handmade paper reflecting the aesthetic and conceptual concerns of twelve individual artists featured in the exhibition. The projects range from large-scale translucent papers made from specialized fibers like abaca (a member of the banana plant family), to laminated cotton sheets with the thickness of chipboard. The work presents hand papermaking collaboration as an artistic exercise in and of itself, one in which the collaborator challenges us to consider where, how, and at what moment art is made through her ability to conceptualize and interpret in this medium. This paper production also highlights the possibilities of the Center’s beautiful and well-equipped papermaking studio, one of just a few of its kind in the world.

As part of student participation in the curatorial and organizational aspects of the exhibition, students created a blog and wrote curatorial essays featuring their experiences with the process as well as theoretical and philosophical aspects related to the exhibition and their own work in the medium. Their work deepens the discourse in the field at large at a historical moment in which the relevance of analog artistic practice is considered in relation to digital media.

It has been remarkable to watch students explore paper production, curation, and exhibition planning as extensions of their interdisciplinary art practice. A number of years before her untimely passing, Center for Book and Paper Arts founder, Marilyn Sward, worked with Dieu Donné founder, Sue Gosin, and me on a program called the Master Papermaking Fellowship. It was a program intended to preserve and promote the hand papermaking medium as an art form through master and apprentice relationships at flagship studios throughout the country including both Dieu Donné and Columbia College Chicago. This project extends Marilyn’s dream for the Center and the field at large, and we are all tremendously proud to carry on that legacy with this remarkable exhibition opportunity.

Melissa Potter

Acting Director and Assistant Professor, Book & Paper Program,

Columbia College Chicago
April 2012


Artistic Collaboration at Dieu Donné

-Kathleen Flynn

Dieu Donné was founded thirty-five years ago to further the field of handmade paper and to utilize collaboration to explore the untapped potential of this centuries-old medium as a contemporary art form. Intent on exploring the potential of handmade paper in new ways, Susan Gosin and Bruce Weinburg founded Dieu Donné in a small Soho loft in 1976. They quickly came to realize that matching diverse and innovative contemporary artists with skilled master papermakers would allow for seemingly endless experimentation in the medium. The excitement of bringing together these creative hands and minds ensured the old adage that the sum is great than its parts.

Traditionally, artistic practice can be a very solitary experience. At Dieu Donné, the artist is challenged with a different environment: a bustling studio, unfamiliar equipment and materials, and trained papermakers who have dedicated their careers to working in a medium developed over 2,000 years ago. The artist must approach an entirely new medium while sharing their very personal creative vision with a collaborator. Many of our artists have later confessed their initial anxiety and fear that they would be the first in our long history not to find a way to work in this unfamiliar medium. It just doesn’t happen. Fear and failure are encouraged, but supported. And, by sharing in the intimate process of creation, we begin to realize other rewards: the studio becomes a laboratory and the artists inspire our collaborators to push the boundaries of hand papermaking in new ways. The inherent unpredictability of the medium also plays a role, with unexpected outcomes often having extraordinary results. Exhilarated by the potential of paper and the challenge this opportunity presents, the Dieu Donné studio is alive—a wild and wet world of possibilities for the artist who has been energized by the creative confidence the medium and our collaborators bring to the process.

Former residency artist Ian Cooper (creator of Chalice, 2010) says it best:

My experience in the Workspace Residency played out like most 80s underdog action movies: at first I was all cocky, but right out of the gate, repeated experimentation failures left me bruised and battered. Dusting myself off, I listened to confidence building rock music and started hitting my marks. In the final showdown, I rose from the ashes (pulp) like some paper phoenix and realized a totally complex artwork that I couldn’t be happier with, nor could I imagine it been made in any other way, or at any other facility.

We are honored to share our work with the Columbia College Center for Book and Paper Arts, and thankful to its staff and supporters for this wonderful opportunity. By sharing a small but significant sample of the works created by over 800 artists who have worked in collaboration our “wet studio,” we hope that those viewing this exhibition will begin to experience the vast possibilities that exist through collaboration in this ever-evolving medium.

Kathleen Flynn

Executive Director, Dieu Donné

April 2012


Labor, Process, Dialogue: Hand Papermaking as Collaborative Model

-Elizabeth Isakson-Dado

Collaboration, in its diffusion of individual authorship, places the emphasis less on the who and more on the what. For us, working together makes public a commitment to the process of exchange that goes on whether it is an individual or group effort. Most important, collaborating is more satisfying than working alone.

Ann Hamilton and Kathryn Clark, View, 1991.[1]

Collaboration is an integral part of hand papermaking in a studio environment, whether it is with master papermakers at a studio like Dieu Donné, or in my experience as a graduate student learning the craft as the basis for my own artwork. Many contemporary artists, like Ann Hamilton and Kathryn Clark, consider the process of collaboration increasingly important to a contemporary art practice because it fosters a dialogue that aids to a deeper connection to concept as well as to craft. As a way to focus more clearly on methodology behind the medium of paper, my co-curators Jessica Cochran, Hannah King, C. J. Mace, and I decided to work collaboratively, not only with each other, but also with the thirteen artists we chose to exhibit in Material Assumptions. We created paper in our studio that was directly tied to the concerns of each individual artwork, and through that specific attention, we could provide the artist with a tailored raw material to serve as the impetus for their piece. This handmade connection—creating the visual starting point—drew us further into each artist’s intention; and as artists communicated their projects to us through proposals and emails, we gained a deeper sense of what the commissioned work would be, and how we would choose to arrange the work as curators in the gallery.

In Material Assumptions, my co-curators and I collaborated on multiple levels, and each stage became a complex conversation: choosing artists to participate in the show, finalizing the fibers to use in the handmade paper, weighing the choices the artists would have in finished sheets, devising a strategy to make samples so artists could easily understand the material, negotiating the need of each artist based on his or her vision and proposal—but most of all, making all the various types and sizes of paper requested, by hand. We approached and executed these tasks with mutual responsibility, and the four of us quickly learned how to work together in a way that opened up the possibilities for the exhibition.

As artists, Hannah, C. J., and I work in the paper studio at the Center for Book and Paper Arts to carry out our personal work, usually making paper alongside our colleagues, but remaining focused on our individual pieces rather than collaboration. As part of a papermaking course, we have each worked with visiting artists to assist in producing an edition of handmade paper, but the scale has been quite small in comparison to the scope of a studio like Dieu Donné. Facing a project as large as Material Assumptions became an exciting endeavor, and our process-based approach to art making began to directly inform the way we worked together as curators and papermaking collaborators for this project. It is a rare experience as a curator to work so closely with materials before the selected artists have made the finished work. Hannah, C. J., and I carefully beat the cotton and abaca fiber to the correct consistency, formed sheets of various thicknesses and sizes, and chose the best method to dry the paper according to each artist’s proposal. The papermaking ritual became a collaborative model for us, and strengthened our relationship to the material through the labor of craft.

My co-curators and I also engaged in a rigorous studio dialogue that has shaped the final outcome of the exhibition, beginning at the material level. Each artist proposed working with paper in a different way, and our methods in the studio had to be flexible enough to change with each individual artist’s need. For example, we were acutely aware that the thin, translucent abaca we made for paper engineer Matt Shlian would directly affect his intricately folded origami forms. We chose to form Shlian’s paper in a large deckle box and then cut the pieces down to size, so the final product could be as consistently thin as possible. In my conversation with Ian Schneller, we discussed the specific need for thick, absorbent sheets of cotton paper to allow him to easily mold the paper into sculptural, audio horn speakers. We pulled Schneller’s paper by hand with a mould and deckle from un-sized cotton and created several extra sheets, in case he needed more room for trial and error with the new material. To accommodate proposals for large installations, including Susan Goethel Campbell’s tiled matrix of relief prints and Anna Tsantir’s wall of overlapping drawings on abaca, we had to dedicate an entire day in the studio to each artist and keep in constant communication about our progress. For Campbell’s piece, which required thirty 20” x24” sheets, four of us worked at our own deckle box station to form cotton sheets identical in texture, with a fifth papermaker checking for the quality and consistency of the sheets. Tsantir’s proposal called for a large quantity as well as a custom size, so we built custom moulds that allowed us to form two sheets at once in an oversized deckle box, a process that took three of us to execute correctly each time, but greatly eased the total work load. Ultimately, the planning, consideration, and implementation of each artist’s request resulted in more than one hundred sheets of handmade paper, formed from fifty pounds of pulp, over the course of just five days.

For me, Material Assumptions has been an educational exercise and a dialogue through making that has informed the final exhibition. As artists, Hannah, C. J., and I know that a connection to material is fundamental to the outcome of an artwork. Making paper for the participating artists has brought us closer to understanding their intention, and hopefully, their connection to the work is deepened by our conversations with one another and our collaborative effort to supply our skilled craft. As Ann Hamilton and Kathryn Clark proclaimed in their artists’ statement for View, “In this, the work is both the labor and the thing.” For us, the process of exchange is the dialogue around making, and communicating that process from hand papermaker to artist to curator is integral to the success of the Material Assumptions exhibition.

[1] Ann Hamilton and Kathryn Clark, View (Washington, D.C.: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, 1991). In Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art, A Sourcebook of Artists Writings, compiled by Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz  (Berkley: University of California Press, 1996), 625–26.


What Happens Between the Two

A (brief) interview with artist Kate McQuillen

-Hannah King

Material Assumptions is an exhibition focusing on the many ways artists can use paper. When choosing the artists for this exhibition we paid special attention to artists who weren’t necessarily using paper in their work, but who were making work we thought lent itself to the medium. Kate McQuillen was an exception. As a printmaker and a former artist-in-residence at the Center for Book and Paper Arts, Kate was already well versed in handmade paper and had used it in several projects. That she had this previous experience made her an interesting artist to me. Kate has a distinct perspective: she knows about handmade paper but doesn’t use it as her primary medium, and she is also consistently concerned with the conceptual implications of the materials she uses. These two facts, to me, make her uniquely placed to make comment. Via e-mail, the following conversation was born.

Hannah King:  So, the reasons why I choose you for this interview are many, but the big one is the diversity of materials that you use. There seems to be a strong connection between you, as an artist, and the materials you use in your work. This is especially true in the pieces where you are using the subject matter as the medium [Smoke Paintings]. I’m really interested in your process and how your ideas develop. There also seems to be a labor-intensity in most everything you make which, being a papermaker and printer myself, I really relate to. Could you tell me a little bit about your process?

Kate McQuillen:  Sometimes I get ideas when working directly with materials while at the shop, and sometimes I get them outside of the studio when doing something else entirely. Once something has popped into my head, I’ll do a little research to see what else might interest me about that particular idea, and then I’ll go back to reworking it in the studio. I’m always searching for materials or mediums that I think would lend a conceptual layer to the work. I think about how the materials that bring the work into a physical form can have an effect, even subtly, on how the idea is received by the viewer.

For instance, for many years, I dealt with subject matter that had little-to-no physical form: cell-phone signals, electronic communications, etc. When trying to depict these things, I decided to use paper as a material, because of its link to the history of mass communication through printing, and its somewhat impermanent nature.

More recently, I’ve been working with ideas involving makeshift weapons. These are very real objects that inflict serious physical damage. I’ve had to move into other materials in order to depict these in the way I’d like: found objects, small metals, using smoke from matches like a paintbrush on paper, etc. In each piece, I feel that the idea pushed me toward the medium, and then something unexpected would unfold once I started working in that medium that would push the project further.

King: You’ve worked with handmade paper before in pieces such as The Eagle Has Landed: Approach/Attack/Burial and Full Moons. How do you find that working with handmade paper is different for you than working with machine made paper?

 McQuillen:  Making paper from scratch has the major advantage of immediate sculptural possibilities. For years, in my pieces about telecommunications, I worked with printed machine made paper, laboring over scores, folds and cuts to get the material to the form that I’d like it to be. In The Eagle Has Landed, I had the opportunity to cut right to the chase, and arrive at a 3-dimensional form very quickly by simply sculpting the paper pulp. This allowed for more freedom and quick decision-making, which I feel gave the project more life.

In The Eagle Has Landed, I also had the ability to stress my conceptual reasons for using paper by purposefully giving the paper a chunky, rough appearance. I wanted to highlight the fantastic, childhood-dream aspect of the moon landing story by portraying it through obviously handmade means. I was also able to poke at ideas of faked moon landing conspiracy theories through my own, obvious fakery. The viewer is given just enough information to know that they are looking at an image of the moon; upon a slightly closer glance, though, they can see such recognizable details as the frayed paper fibers in the astronaut’s spacesuits, illuminated by the spotlight, and the familiar crinkle of crumpled tin foil in the landing gear of the Eagle.

King: Do you find that working with handmade paper influences the conceptual side of the work?

 McQuillen: The pieces I chose to make for this show reference x-ray imaging and surveillance in our post-9/11 environment. They depict articles of my own clothing with weapons planted within them, and are treated in a way that makes them look like x-rays. They depict [a] variety of weapons, some actually dangerous, and some that, though probably harmless, are banned from airplanes. With this show, I was very excited to make versions of these pieces using handmade paper, as the uneven and deckled edges seem to highlight the folds and creases of the skirts and blouses used in the works. I also liked the idea of printing on a fully cotton rag paper to reinforce the materiality of the clothing depicted in the works.

King:  When we approached you for this project you proposed several different ideas? How did the fact that they would be from handmade paper affect your proposed ideas (if at all)?

McQuillen: Paper is often a medium of choice for me due to its versatility, and its ability as a sculptural material to also carry two-dimensional imagery. Blank and bare, it represents an everyday material that we use as scrap. Printed, it can carry images or data. It can be burned, folded, scored, cut up, glued. I feel it’s a very loaded material with endless possibilities for application.

 One of the works I proposed was a large installation piece, in which a paper fire extinguisher would be spraying forth paper pulp. This is an example of how sometimes, I feel like I see the world through some sort of art-material-glasses; I clearly remember a day where I was walking past a fire extinguisher mounted on a wall, and suddenly had an image pop into my head of it shooting out paper pulp instead of that foamy stuff that’s actually inside it. Perhaps it comes from working directly with materials day in and day out, or maybe it comes from generally having my head in the clouds most of the time, but I often amuse myself with these kinds of ideas. I like to make associations between similar materials, and then draw out ideas from what happens between the two.

Excerpted from an interview between the author and artist, April 28 – May 7, 2012


 Crafting Encounters: Papermaking and Maker Culture in Contemporary Media
-C. J. Mace
When critics and theorists attempt to define craft, refinement or skillis often a part of the definition, as well as a focus on the resulting object. The thought is that we read the handiwork and see time and mastery. The object supposedly points to its maker in this way. Yet any refinement requires practice and prototype, apprenticeship and exchange, experiment and failure, and, increasingly, collective processes or collaborative fabrication. The object has little or no meaning as an end in itself, and the line between industrial and handmade is blurry at best. This makes it nearly impossible to use handiwork as a defining characteristic of craft.

Artists drive the process of making but often have not had the resources or power to frame the “final” work; in response, many have adopted prototypes and participatory making as their focus instead of seeing them as by-products. Material Assumptions explores they way this focus challenges how we delineate community, assign value, and see accomplishment and failure in larger culture. Objects are made in constant processes of activation, recreation, and reiteration, both in the process that got the object there and in the continued enactment of, reception of, and performance with/of/around the object. They are a way to open a space for thinking, contact, and acting. Informed by new media theory, this show positions craft as an orientation to making and enacting within contemporary art instead of an origination; as a media technology, what paper “means” fluxes, co-exists, rises, falls, and re-emerges in cultural history.

While remaining very clear about my role as curator and not artist in this instance, I see this curatorial project as an extension of my personal practice. Handmade paper is a particularly expressive and challenging method of communication and dissemination. We curators are playing a unique role in that we are also making the paper for the artists: we can make it to specifications for them, it is easily sent and transported, and it suits a variety of approaches and practices. Most importantly, the project provokes all of us to talk about why and how we are using it. Part of the endeavor is the translation between technical language and creative vision. The goal of this project is not to find what is unique to works with paper but use it as a productive restriction and a point of contact with the artists we’ve commissioned.


Material Assumptions roots papermaking firmly in broader “maker culture,” embracing mediums not commonly thought of as traditional craft mediums. As the artists that intrigue me personally span across various media and fields, one way I think of paper is as a component technology that gets shared. Ian Cooper, in his statement about the pieces he created for the Dieu Donné Workspace Program, writes that the source materials feeding his practice include “poor quality paparazzi photograph[s],” “coming of age films and television programs,” and other pop culture forms that thrive on endless loops of rumor and self-reference. By describing his process of making as “reconfiguring” and “extracting,” he acknowledges this referential bricolage—the lineage of pop culture associations that feed his work.[i] Defined by cascading streams of allusion, craft becomes focused on dissemination and flexibility instead of exactness or authenticity. His 2010 sculpture, Chalice, for example, combines handmade papers with such materials as trash bags, fabric, and commercial paper. His residence in the Dieu Donné Workspace Program demonstrates how makers build creative community, not around materials or processes, but around modes of inquiry and approaches to experimental producing which may or may not be completely “handmade,”

Component Desires

The laborious processes that often characterize and help define craft are really encounters, acts that make desires manifest in some concrete way as catalysts for the dialogue between us. “Handmade” is just one way to symbolize not so much the labor of the handiwork but a labor to connect made physical. These objects are a social interface; their design, the materials used, the way they are presented matter, but these qualities matter because they shape how we communicate, connect, and access meaning. Paper is a modular, malleable substance that has limitations and conventions of use. These conventions are pushed, stretched, and utterly broken by the artists who may have no investment in the fact that it is handmade.

In activating the assumption that objects imply makers, many makers are often crafting an image or persona via their work, making a performance out of that work. This image may not be polished; it may be purposefully de-skilled, awkward, ugly, weird, uncomfortable, repulsive, or lo-fi. It also contradicts objects as a boundary policing “source” of identity while acknowledging we craft identity in an ongoing process partly through the objects and artifacts we make.

dAn, one of the artists commissioned to produce new work, makes fluidity and communicative potential the focus of his work. He proposed that we make both the paper and the instructions for its use, even drawing or writing instructions on or inside the paper. His job, then, is to produce pieces that completed those instructions to the best of his ability. These instructions could be nonsensical, impractical, conceptual, poetic, or completely deadpan. His chosen responsibility was to fulfill our desires through the object he produced in response to those instructions, subverting a hierarchy of producer and receiver. He looks at craft in terms of desire, trust, fulfillment, and utopian yearnings enacted into the world via both the object and the ritual making of the object.

Larger remix culture has relevance within papermaking, infusing it with a sense of “impreciousness” and expandable expendability. This sense can butt heads with the laboriousness of production and the need for physical space and resources that often accompanies making. It also contradicts efforts to find authenticity or read the object as a manifestation of the identity of the maker. In this line of thinking, the object becomes a cipher instead of a glyph, with shifting significances and relevancies. The goal is not to devalue the labor of making but to emphasize its value within a larger system of making meaning.

In my own work, I approach the objects I make as just the first point of contact, the “hook” that draws participants in. I work extensively in prototypes, assuming that the artwork only exists as others use and test it, feeding its lifespan with videos, pictures, and accounts of how it was used. Awkwardness can serve a purpose, as can ugliness and wear. Refinement, in my practice, does not mean finish; it means thinking extensively how participants will read and use what I make. It means seeing the gallery as a test space where participants activate the artwork. It means a series of projects in conversation. Studio and gallery often cease to be separate spaces.

“Studio” has become a dispersed and mobile idea, even when the particular processes one utilizes may require significant space and equipment, as does papermaking. Like the open source movement in software, many makers now participate in dispersed, collaborative communities where part of the craft is organizing situational creativity. They may use the object merely as a locus of participation or as the artifact of a performance; they may source some of the handiwork elsewhere; they may use materials previously thought of as industrial; or they may focus on the intense, repetitive labor of their process, the system they create each time they make, over the quality of the actual materials used.


The papermaking studio is a key nodal site in a series of exchanges that may or may not become an artwork; it is also a testing ground and research site. This is abundantly evident from the cross-section of artists who have chosen to participate in this project: printmakers, installation artists, hybrid media artists, a paper engineer, and an instrument maker are just part of the list. Vibrant communities are built around a variety of levels of investment because that investment shapes the networks that get built.

Papermaking is important precisely because it is not precious; that is, its value comes from knowledge and skill sharing not reserving or preserving. It, as a material, should be treated carelessly in order to learn the most about its potential as a medium. Studio practice must adapt to this reality. Instead of re-enforcing dichotomies between industrial and handmade, analog and digital, or made and produced, papermaking as remix refocuses the conversation, positing making as a participatory and communicative action that has the concrete side effect of marshaling resources and carving out necessary spaces for exchange. At stake is our worldviews, how we make and define ourselves through these exchanges.

[i] Ian Cooper, Artist’s Statement, Dieu Donné Workspace Program 2001–10, accessed April 28, 2012,


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