The Papier Biënnale Rijswijk 2018 celebrates paper on a grand scale with work from international artists. And very impressive it is too and beautifully presented.
Paper is and always has been at the centre of our lives, now and in the past. Its fragility belies its capacity for survival of wars and flames when stone and metal have long been destroyed. It has outlasted papyrus and vellum. Fold it and it produces light and shade, coat it and it becomes hard, wet it and you can mould it into anything you like. The conceit that we could live without it came with the computer age and the prediction of the ‘paper-less office’. But low-and-behold, books have survived, paper has become more than just something you write on – in fact, it is loved more than ever.
In the 8th century Arab hordes invaded China where they found artisans making fine rice paper to wrap the Emperor’s tea. The paper makers where made prisoners in Samarkand, then part of the Persian Empire. They were tortured to divulge the art of paper making. The Arabs discovered that mulberry trees, growing in abundance around Samarkand, were ideal for paper production. They kept the manufacturing secrets for 1000 years before this art spread to Spain and Italy (paper making did not reach America until 1659). Contrary to the Spanish who produced murky paper due to lack of the right water, Italy and the town of Fabriano triumphed, thanks to the purest of waters. Paper making moved to France where I had the privilege, as part of my book-making work, to buy my exquisite hand-made paper from the 17th century paper mill of Larroque on the Couze river. Walking into that mill was like walking into a cathedral of paper.
It is impossible to name all the artists exhibiting in this Biënnale. Some let the paper dominate in their work, other do things with it; not many seem to actually make their own paper; most use recycle paper and other materials. French artist Dominique Rousseau does make his own paper and produces intriguing, organic works related to the mysterious worlds she finds under water. Annita Smit’s pieces are made of plissée, shaved newspapers, achieving an almost textile effect. For some works she uses remnants of pages from a big Bible publisher. German artist Aja von Loeper creates monochrome, embossed works on giant hanging sheets which look like wounded stone walls; Zaida Oenema painstakingly uses a fine cutting technique and produces the most astonishing, mathematical patterns – her piece entitled Fields was stunning.
Inevitably, some works impressed me more than others – the folded, monumental pieces by Dutch artist Mathilde van Wijnen could have been made of large sheets of metal or stone until one stood right beside them. In contrast, the fragility of French artist Vivianne Colautti Ivanova’s work, intriguingly titled You, the one I’ll never know, has something of a tangled, cobweb-like organism struggling to find a form. And lastly, work that chimed with my love for old, dead wood was that of German artist Ute Krautkremer who creates parts of barren trees, actual size, one with the amusing title of Mama’s Nussbaum.
Most of the work exhibited seems to be made by women – perhaps they have more affinity with texture and organic forms. I was looking for work in which paper had the starring role so I found the absence of hand-made paper in most of these works a little disappointing as recycled material simply does not have the same presence.
An excellent exhibition all round in a splendid museum – not to be missed. Astrid Burchardt, July 2018
The Rijswijk Paper Biennale continues until 7th October 2018