A chaotic vortex of white paper strips — enmeshed with metal wiring and plastic toy soldiers — quivers in the stream of air flowing from a ceiling vent. It cascades to an end amid a miniature paper city on the floor. Here, in the back of the Ritter Art Gallery, a long, dimly lit space above the breezeway at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Salt Lake City-based Lenka Konopasek's suspended Indoor Tornado demonstrates the surprising versatility of paper as an artistic medium. The work is one of several three-dimensional pieces featured in "Papercuts," a touring exhibition highlighting the works of seven contemporary female artists who practice the ancient technique of paper-cutting.
Konopasek's interactive works force viewers to walk around them and examine them up close. The pop-up-styled paper structures include scaled-down cityscapes and disaster scenes, both natural and manmade, lending a sinister thematic hue to a typically more playful form. The material itself — thin, fragile, and fleeting — and the delicate, deliberate techniques involved in its manipulation add layers of meaning to the artists' works: As much as we attempt to exert control over our lives, there's little we can do to manipulate how and when we'll go.
Curated by artist Reni Gower, "Papercuts" is robust in scope, featuring 32 works ranging from elaborate, floor-to-ceiling, Arabic-inspired cutout patterns to text-based, documentary works that appropriate found and collected materials. Michelle Forsyth's series of glass-frame-encased, hand-punched paper bearing quotations from news stories and witness accounts is a refreshing take on textual art. Created using a careful process of removal, the perforated texts on off-white paper are difficult to decipher unless viewed from just the right angle, and the content, sourced from primary documents and accounts, forms acute, poetic images in the mind. One such work, titled "New York Times, July 18, 1996," reads: "Fire had left its terrifying blight in a colorless, garish monotony that suggests the burned-out crater of an extinct volcano." Even though Forsyth's paper is essentially blank, the piece creates a powerful mental picture while making a subtle allusion to its own vulnerability against the all-consuming flames.
Daniella Woolf is another paper artist in the show who uses documents to create her work. Again bringing this traditionally intimate, small-scale practice to a larger-than-life size, her works are composed of small scraps of personal history — shoe repair shop tickets, inventory index cards — aged and frozen in time by a coating of wax and sewn together with colored stitching to create a sort of hanging paper fabric, like quilts of human memory. "Social Register," for example, is made from the entries of a "parental Rolodex," with names and phone numbers hand-scrawled across hundreds of little cards. The piece is both nostalgia-inducing and eerie, suggesting a network of missing or broken connections and technologies already long gone.
Also notable in the exhibit were Beatrice Coron's hand-cut Tyvek narrative depictions of fantastical imagined cities, the sheer size and amount of singular detail of which are awe-inspiring on their own. Less conceptually ambitious but still pleasantly tongue-in-cheek for their domicile naughtiness, Lauren Scanlon's Dare I Be Happy? (Marigold) and other similar pieces make beautiful, elaborately patterned decorative wall hangings out of the pages of old Harlequin novels.
On view through March 2, "Papercuts" is a surprisingly loaded exhibit exploring the boundaries and potential of a material that demands extreme precision, patience, and an obsessive attention to detail. Featuring artists whose works manage to update and refresh a centuries-old practice, the exhibition succeeds at breathing new life into paper-cutting in the digital age, while for the most part avoiding cliché or kitsch.
On the other end of the spectrum — and a quick five-minute walk across campus — another exhibition on view at FAU's Schmidt Center Gallery explores what happens when artists let go of control and allow chance and spontaneity to become driving forces. "Pour" is on view through March 23 and focuses exclusively on abstract painting, in particular works created using pouring techniques. Curated by University of South Florida Associate Professor of Painting and Drawing Elisabeth Condon and FAU Professor of Painting and Drawing Carol Prusa, the show takes a look at the evolution of abstract expressionism since the second World War, showcasing the works of nine accomplished contemporary painters who take advantage of the capriciousness and unpredictability of the paint-pouring technique to express a reverence for the forces of nature, the given form, and the beauty in that which we cannot control.
Located in a much more open, airy, and lighted space, the works in this show are allowed to "flow" and breathe under the high concrete ceilings of the Schmidt Gallery. Upon entering, the viewer is bombarded with color, from vibrant, neon blues to softly glowing pastels to large, blocked-off primary colors. Some of the pieces are more graphic, replicating the effects of digital gradients, while others resemble highly detailed photographs or blueprints. While reflecting on the influence of digital culture on the process of pouring paint, the exhibit highlights works that embrace and derive meaning from paint's properties, rather than force the paint to conform.
The works in the show not only capture the movements of liquid paint but also reveal the movement and flow of the artists themselves, who lay their canvases flat and must work around the pieces rather than face them head on, engaging in a sort of dance with the works and becoming involved in a more visceral way. Los Angeles-based Ingrid Calame creates her colorful, frenetic works by layering spills of paint traced from samples of the marks and residue left behind in urban living, resulting in a sort of visual map of their interactions.
David Reed's bright, paneled paintings were created by recombining several of his own works to create a single piece that spans varying moments in time in the artist's career. The graphic, vibrantly hued paintings call to mind Kenny Scharf's whimsical pop art, but stripped-down, more abstract and intuitive. Carrie Yamaoka's mixed media on reflective Mylar works offer another dimension to the paint-pouring technique, giving the viewer a reflection of herself in the space of the gallery, distorted and transformed by an undulating deep blue on the large, reflective surfaces.
The graphite-on-paper works of New York-based Roland Flexner stand out for their small scale and lack of color. A series of approximately five-by-seven-inch untitled pieces were made by dipping paper in water, then dipping it in a second tray of liquid graphite, then removing the paper and blowing on it through hollow tubes and spraying it with mineral water. The resulting compositions resemble photographic landscapes, haunting, otherworldly geological scenes captured in time.
In a single trip, "Papercuts" and "Pour" offer opposite perspectives on artistic practice, demonstrating on the one hand the beauty that emerges from discipline, control, and precision and on the other hand the freedom that can come from surrendering to the natural ebb and flow of life.