All Flesh is Grass

By Arlyne Moi

Norwegian College of Applied Art and Design, Thesis for Master’s Degree, 1998
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4 Three Projects

II: Obey Necessity: An object for a public room

«And Nature Must Obey Necessity» Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act IV, Sc. 3

1 The concept

«By climbing up mature plants young plants reach the brightly lit forest canopy. Almost every element of plant anatomy, it seems, can be turned into some kind of climbing device … elongated tips of leaves, undersides of stems, tendrils groping around in space till they touch the stem of another and swiftly coil around it.» Like-wise, parasites run their imperialistic campaigns sponging off host plants. All goes well as long as the host produces enough nutrition to uphold its own life as well as that of the parasite.

Just as plants extend themselves one increment at a time, so also do acrobats as they climb on top of each other. When Circus Agora was in town , I went to see the acrobats climb. They have a surprising amount of tenacity, just like plants.

2 The technique

My molded paper object is the development of a discovery I made during my third year of studies. One night a fellow student went home without turning the paper-mill off. It ran all night and the fiber was so whipped by the next morning that it took a very long time for water to drain out. The student thought she would throw it out and asked if I wanted it. Yes, I thought it might be fun to see if something could be done with such hy-drated fiber.

I found that even when very thin, the paper was strong and that it had a tremendous capacity for shrinkage. At that time I wanted my work to lay flat. It seemed impossible to get the abaca to dry flat on its own so I dried it under pressure. One day I forgot to do this and when I came in the next morning, the paper was all shrunken and curled. The result was really quite interesting and I wondered if this was the beginning of something new? I made a large sample, treated it with both bone glue and boat varnish, and hung it up in the window of the locker room at the gym where I exercise. The paper held up excellently over the summer months, in spite of the humidity.

After doing all sorts of experiments in the first semesters, I decided that it would be this type of paper I would try to take from the sphere of research into production.

3 Greenhouse cathedrals

Some times I used the basic schema of early and late gothic cathedrals as a construction on which to hang various elements. eventually when I felt that the drawings were hampered by the gothic construction, I hid the background layer and worked on the design, based on its own premises. I used the gothic cathedral as a way to get started, but not more than that.

My first attempts with the cathedral idea looked mostly like people stacked on top of each other. There was nothing plant like about them and they were quite chaotic. They had too much energy going in all sorts of di-rections. The whole structures were made up of same size components and there was no rhythm, only a steady boring repetition. I did not have a clear sense of direction or plan of attack. I was just trying any way I could to get some where. I think this was because I had not at the start made a clear decision about if I wanted my plants to adhere to the basic rules pertaining to plant life, or if they were to be more like topiary - nature heav-ily constricted by culture and in fact quite unnatural.

Again, Peter S. Stevens book Patterns in Nature came to my aid. He elegantly explained to me that nature plays favorites. Among her darlings are branching patterns and 120 degree joints. (The same angle as in a gothic arch.) These patterns occur again and again. Nature is like a theatrical producer who brings on the same players each night in different costumes for different roles. Once again, She works on a very limited budget, and never does more work or uses more materials than is absolutely necessary. I found this principle of least work most helpful. If I limited myself to the basic structural patterns already found in nature, I could achieve harmony more easily than if I tried to compose things with disregard to natural laws. When I followed these principles, things started looking more like plants.

4 The process

The abaca (fiber from the banana leaf) is beaten for about 24 hours and then died. The key to color saturation is the capacity of the fiber to shrink. The more it shrinks, the more saturated the color. When the color is as I want it, I mold the paper. The molding process is very slow. I thought about the monk who spent 35 years painting one rather small cross-shaped icon with a very fine paint brush consisting of about one hair. Was he mad? Am I mad? Was it worth it?

When finished, I hang it on the wall and observe it out of the corner of my eye. These things become work shop decorations one passes a thousand times a day. If it disturbs me visually, than it is not very good. Even-tually, I take a pair of scissors and start editing. It always helps.

I have used just one dark color and tried to concentrate on molding figures that would be interesting after they have shrunk and curled.

5 Considerations around using paper as public decoration

I think molded paper is well suited for the decoration of public buildings. My intention is to show its possibili-ties as a freeze or to have a more constructive function in the form of a wall or room divider.

Works made of paper are viewed as textiles. Joanna Larson, conservator at the Bergen Art Museum, says their present policy is that works on paper can only be exhibited one month out of every three years due to the dan-gers of ultra violet radiation. It became clear to me therefore, that I also need to take into account the effects of radiation on my work. Because the degree program is only three semesters, there is not time to expose my pa-per to ultra violet light for any long length of time. I could have aged samples of the work prematurely with the ultra violet lamp in the work shop as well as exposed them to extreme heat by putting them in my oven at home. I have not done this because I was not aware that it was important until the end of the third semester. However, if the paper is protected by a sealed transparent covering such as glass covered with an ultra violet filter, the paper will hold up indefinitely.

There was the dilemma that I did not want to spend my whole hovedfag working with molded paper. If I had gone to the textile institute, this might have been the case. Since I consider myself first and foremost an illus-trator, molded paper was just one medium in which to illustrate my theme.

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