Who knew that hand papermaking art could be so alive on the internet?
Angie Shen is an artist who works with ceramics, video, web art, installation, and, our favorite, papermaking. She studied papermaking and book arts in Southern California, and took the time to answer a few curious questions for Paperslurry.
Keep reading for the interview!
MAY BABCOCK: How you come to learn how to make paper?
ANGIE SHEN: I learned how to make paper from Harry and Sandra Reese of Turkey Press while attending the University of California, Santa Barbara, CA. They developed a beautiful studio where I learned how to process various fibers in Hollander beaters (Valley), use pigments, dyes/other additives, and pull and finish sheets using stack dry, board dry, and cast methods. I attended Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina where I learned how to clean, cook and hand-beat long fibers with Peter Sowiski of Abaca Press, NY. Most recently I’ve been working with May Babcock in her Paperslurry studio, where she’s taught me tons—not only about her Noble & Wood and Critter beaters, but also about the ecology and of local fiber resources. I’m extremely lucky and grateful for all the experiences and opportunities I’ve had to make paper.
MB: As an artist working in range of mediums, why choose hand papermaking?
AS: I love work that requires me to do material research. For me, hand papermaking is a method that reconciles gaps between mediums and genres (painting, drawing, sculpture, etc.), so seeing and making paper as a complete work rather than just a surface is a rewarding challenge.
MB: What do you think it means to make handmade paper in the 21st century? I’m curious to know what you think, as an artist working in a range of technologies (video, web art, ceramics, printmaking, and more).
AS: I think in our world there’s misconceptions that advancements in technology are limited to engineering in mainstream academic science fields. Even the words “hard science” and “soft science” create a weird hierarchy. I think this leads lots of folks to assume all artists make but don’t do real work. Because of the specific details of each project, papermaking involves so many intentional material and technical decisions, and at the very least mediated interactions with other researchers in various fields. There is so much to learn with hand papermaking. On the other hand, there is an aspect of patience and surprise that I really value with papermaking that is similar to ceramics. They both seem to involve manipulating particles suspended in water, which is then removed — I love that you can talk about it like magic!
MB: I really enjoy your no title (rice) pieces—can you elaborate on your process and concept?
AS: Often times, I don’t know what I’m trying to say until after I attempt and fail messily. Rice can be a physically, socio-economically loaded symbol that I think helped convey some ideas I was having at the time; feeling like the only ideas I had during school revolved around communicative burdens surrounding my identity. I created four unique matrices using rice grains that were individually laid out onto an etching press bed, three in “pile” formations, and one clustered without a sense of gravity. I laid dampened rag paper on top of that surface—I suppose technically a disposable, one-off collagraph—and ran that through the press. So, depending on the way the paper is viewed, the grains appear either embossed or de-bossed.
Same Cloud Different Sky, pulp painting, 2014
MB: In Same cloud, different sky, what technique and paper fibers did you use to create these dual sided pulp paintings? They also become almost a color test or study, where the light green and the pink pulps appear to be different colors, depending on context. What is your thinking on the ephemeral nature of color—also, does this idea of temporality appear in other work?
AS: I processed and beat cotton from recycled cotton bed sheets, cotton linter and abaca half-stuff in a Valley beater, colored separated pulps—pink cotton, green cotton, white abaca, and flocculated (excessive retention aid) black cotton—using synthetic and earth pigments, and pulled large pink and grey paper sheets which I then applied the green cotton pulp to, either on top of the sheet or inlaid in a hole. The paper displays the different effects the two backgrounds (“skies”) has on the subtly fluorescent green pulp dots, and in a gallery setting the pink sheets leave the viewer with a negative image when vision is fixed onto a white space directly after. I was thinking lots about tests, but also just very pleased with the effects I had achieved with the pigments on a small scale and wanted to indulge in them. As far as the idea of temporality, I think this comes across in my work because I’m interested in how to break from linear time perspectives (past, present, future). I don’t think I have a good grip on that yet, although in some ways books and other interactive arts can activate new time perspectives.
MB: Where does your imagery come from? Dots, clouds, rice, dreams—the ephemeral.
AS: I do make decisions heavily influenced by my past experiences and environments, and at this point it almost feels unavoidable to reference those through colors, forms, words, and surfaces. But I also think the aesthetics of nostalgia are problematic when used to perpetuate a purist idea of a “simpler” time, especially within consumable arts, so I am trying to be less curated in imagery as a step towards unlearning the ways that my dreams (sleeping dreams and life goal dreams) have been formed around and infected by white-supremacist-cishetero-patriarchy-imperialism and transgenerational traumas. Looking back, I see a clear desire to navigate a return to “girlhood” — it’s understandable, but also foolish. I feel privileged in many ways and thus don’t feel it’s appropriate for me to use imagery beyond stating that I exist, feel complicated, and hope someone else can understand and/or feel reassured about their own existence.
Bitter Puddle – Cotton, abaca pulp.
New Year Paper (12″ x 18″, 22×36). front/back
MB: Bitter Puddle displayed online almost become pulp animations as your show both sides of the paper, which I truly enjoy! Can you speak more about presentation in a gallery compared to showing work on the internet?
AS: I always feel a little frenetic when making paper, but this series was especially rushed as I was about to hop onto a plane to move across the country the day after I pulled and put the sheets in a stack dryer. Paper fibers have a memory, so the slight dampness and unrestrained drying that occurred resulted in wrinkly, watery looking sheets. I hoped that making animated GIFs to display these sheets encourages them to be viewed in a liquidly, which can be hard in a gallery setting. It’s a privilege that I’m able to self-publish; in some ways I have more control and freedom when showing my own work online, but it’s limited in other ways—by a screen, how well my documentation style speaks to others, etc.
MB: Any new projects in the works? What are you excited about in regards to exploring hand papermaking?
AS: I’ve been lucky to work with May on a long-term project towards preparing a series of papers made from milkweed fiber that we harvested in Connecticut together recently. This series would cover a range of preparation, beating and sheet formation specifics. I’m interested in using earth pigments to pigment this fiber in a subtle way to mimic/reinterpret ceramic surface design techniques.. we’ll see how it works out!
Excited, and want to see more? Visit angi-shen.com for more of Angie’s artwork.