I have said it before on these pages and, no doubt, I will do so again – paper is an underrated and taken for granted commodity. When you think of all the great books, all the wonderful pieces of music written on it, all the drawings, not to mention banknotes, you have to admit that perhaps paper does not get the respect it deserves. In our throwaway society it is paper that is the first to go – luckily it is biodegradable, otherwise our current problems with waste would seem as nothing.
Museum Rijswijk with its Papier Biënnale titled Transition, shows this humble product some real respect and places it on the pedestal, often literally, that it deserves. Running for five months, the exhibition demonstrates there is no such thing as “just paper”. There are enormous drawings, intricate models, bold installations and sensational sculptures. The twenty artists from around the world represent all aspects and styles of art, anything is permitted – as long as its prime constituent is paper, used as the work’s main materiel, not just as a support.
As we entered the museum we were given a slip of paper onto which, after our visit, we had to place a cross next to the name of our favourite artist – the one with the most votes will get a one man/woman show at the museum next year. This was not an easy choice – some pieces were so intricate that one had to admire the dexterity and patience of the artist while other works were bold and unrelenting, giving the impression that paper was a strong as any stone. My short list consisted of four artists, but I’m not going to say where my tick went.
Gam Bodenhausen’s work falls into the bold category with her Deep Time Foldings, demonstrating the artist’s on-going study of geological processes. Consisting of liberal amounts of graphite applied to tough pattern-making paper, one feels the work could have emanated from the very core of the earth.
Also in the bold and unrelenting category are the two spectacular pieces by Carlijn Mens. One in a large square frame, the other on a huge roll of paper attached to the wall and extending onto the gallery floor, the works belong to the series Traces of Meaning and consist of thousands of footprints left by children as they tread on the paper with charcoal covered feet.
At the other end of the spectrum is Thierry Faligot whose small, incredibly detailed work, often under glass domes, almost defy belief. They are tiny tableaux like fantasy landscapes, oriental artifacts or technicolor religious relics. Amazing.
Somewhere in between is the piece by Anita Groener who manages to combine bold and intricate in her work Citizen and Blink which consists of a huge circle of twigs mounted on the wall. Closer inspection reveals that many of the twigs are inhabited by tiny black silhouette figures.
Honourable mentions must also go to Marleen Kappe whose very clean drawings in Perspex boxes contain architectural and installational elements. One of the most eye catching installations is by Bea Van Der Weijden which consists of hundreds of small heads, each about five centimetres, depicting often disturbing elements of human existence. Nearby, in a lighter vein, is a beautiful sculpture by Agnete Simoni Mortenson called Head in the Clouds which shows a sixty centimeter high female figure with her head . . .err. . .in a cloud.
Ton Slits’ Wishful Thinking No.4 is like a huge black paper doily or a giant piece of lace. It hangs from the ceiling casting strange shadows on the floor and opposite wall.
I admired the technicality dexterity and patience involved in producing some of these works and, objectively, they would have made the cut for the short list. But although I admired the pieces and the skill involved in making them, subjectively and emotionally they often did not grab me.
Once again the Rijswijk Papier Biënnale demonstrates there is more to lowly, common place paper than we usually give it credit for. Michael Hasted 28th July 2022
Museum Rijswijk’s Papier Biënnale continues until 13th November.