Apart from the wheel, paper is possible the most important invention that mankind has ever come up with. We completely take it for granted because it is everywhere. We have contact with it, one way or another, each and every hour of every day of our lives. And despite this, or perhaps because of it, paper is also the thing we usually discard without a second thought.
So, it is good that sometimes we have our attention drawn to paper and we are obliged to give it a second thought. And that is exactly what Museum Rijswijk does every couple of years with its Paper Biennial.
This year it has a very apposite theme – Home. We have all been forced to spend more time at home than usual during the lock-down but there are an ever increasing numbers of people who no longer have a home after being forced to flee, usually as a result of conflict.
These themes, and others, are developed in five sub-themes, each demonstrating and exploring different aspect of the concept of home – Roots, Safety First, To Boldly Go, Into the Great Unknown and Lost, Not Yet Found.
The pieces range from simple, relatively small drawings to huge sculptures or installations, shown in the several and disparate rooms in this very attractive museum to which I always enjoy my visits.
Perhaps the most striking and most memorable work in the show is a giant head roughly constructed from cardboard boxes and silver gaffer tape by Quentley Barbara. The head is a portrait of a family member in Curaçao where he grew up and I am quite prepared to believe it is a good likeness. Despite its crudeness the work has a great subtlety and sensitivity to it.
Barbara’s work depicts fond reminiscences of someone a long way from home but retaining the family connection.
Rosa Everts’ installation portrays a situation where all connection is lost and loneliness prevails. Schiltraem consists of several piles of luggage and other detritus left scattered on the floor. Painted entirely in matt black and left abandoned in the middle of the room, it demonstrates the solitude and desperation of homelessness. The bicycle completely weighed down with stuffed rubbish bags is particularly poignant.
In the same room is another installation, one very different from the heavy black, almost depressing luggage nearby. Anna van Bohemen’s Refuse consists of two sets of wall hangings and an arrangement of baskets supported on sticks. On one wall 3500 paper shells hang from strings, each with an eye painted on it. On the other, three rows of clustered elongated paper shells, each with writing on it. The eyes, the writing and the baskets explore the sense of home by an artist whose Polish mother was interned in Germany during WW2 and who herself was born there soon after but was brought up in The Netherlands.
I really liked Traces of Existence by Dutch artist Pim Palsgraaf. Although the large piece, depicting a three dimensional view of the shattered interior of a building, is mainly constructed from bits of old wood with little paper in evidence, the beautiful maquettes are put together using various scraps of paper and card.
As always the Museum Rijswijk’s Paper Biennial is well worth a visit. Perhaps paper itself isn’t quite as much in evidence as in previous years, but the theme of Home gives the opportunity to over twenty artists from around the globe to demonstrate the versatility of a commodity without which our world would be a very different place. Michael Hasted 15th July 2020
The 2020 Rijswijk Paper Biennial continues until 15th November.