Volumes of paper


Four artists with prestigious resumes who make original use of an ancient but still relevant material, which in their hands becomes ductile, effective, and a fascinating artistic medium

Paper layered and overlapped, treated and manipulated until it acquires surprising volumes and textures, transforming three-dimensional objects and installations into real art masterpieces, giving concrete substance to suggestions, visions, thoughts and dreams. As part of the International Prize “Manibus 2023”, the works of Caterina Crepax, Daniele Papuli, Perino&Vele and Anila Rubiku were exhibited at the Carlo V Castle in Lecce, Italy, as part of the exhibition “Volumes of Paper,” produced by Nicola Miulli Creations and co-financed by the Region of Puglia and the Regional Agency for Tourism Pugliapromozione with the contribution of the Regional Directorate of Museums Puglia, organized under the guidance of artistic director Nicola Miulli.

In a quick roundup, Caterina Crepax presented some of her famous gowns and corsets-apparently fragile, but in several cases wearable-made by manipulating with flair and undoubted fabrile skill common papers and precious papers of different provenance, texture and coloration. Daniele Papuliinvaded the space of the Hall of Statutes with a large-scale installation, constructed by assembling and mixing thousands of strips of paper of different weights and tones of white. Representing the work of Perino&Vele were some large papier-mâché sculptures, in which objects from the everyday horizon, inspired by a deep sense of ethics, are transfigured by the playful attitude that connotes their work. And finally, a poetic installation, a kind of village of paper cottages lit up inside and embellished by embroidery, the result of a community project, created with volunteers from a London cancer treatment center was the work chosen for Anila Rubiku.

The roots of paper use in art: a historical excursus

The topic of paper used in the artistic sphere is very current, and even our magazine “Paper Industry World” has been devoting space to this fascinating topic for years. The first experiments in the use of paper and cardboard in the artistic sphere are already present in the early twentieth century, says the curator of the exhibition Lia De Venere, who in fact mentions Pablo Picasso’s cardboard reliefs. Then, in the second half of the last century, there arose precisely an interest on the part of artists to renew the plastic language through the use of materials taken from everyday contexts, and what favored this turn was first of all the physical characteristics of paper and cardboard: their very low weight, the ease with which they can be manipulated, their extreme malleability, as well as the ease with which they can be found and their low cost, which are counterbalanced by characteristics – in some respects negative but in others even desirable – such as the fragility and limited durability of the artifacts, considered inherent in the existence of the work, De Venere continues.

Then in the second half of the 1960s, experimentation with materials unrelated to the plastic tradition intensified in the international sphere, which – investigating in the everyday scene – looked at what is ephemeral and therefore destined to be lost within a more or less short time, the curator tells us: “it is the exponents of Arte Povera at the end of the decade who made use of materials belonging to the everyday and, therefore, easily available and often deteriorating in a short time. The most striking case is Untitled – “Eating Structure” – (1968) by Giovanni Anselmo, a work that places granite, a symbol of durability, in unequal dialogue with a head of salad, representing transience.”

And it is precisely among the so-called “poverists” that original examples of the use of paper and cardboard to make sculptural artifacts can be identified, such as Alighiero Boetti’s works: the “Columns” (1967), built by stacking thousands of pastry paper doilies into iron poles, and “Roll of Corrugated Cardboard,” a kind of stepped pinnacle. And if Mario Merz – artist and painter, 1925-2003 – accumulated stacks of newspapers to make various installations, newspaper pages also served Michelangelo Pistoletto – artist, painter, sculptor born in 1933 – to cover the surface of his Sphere of Newspapers (1967), repeatedly replicated and rolled in the street with the collaboration of passers-by, while with a large quantity of rolls of corrugated cardboard he made the well-known “Labyrinth” (1969), a kind of meandering walkway, conceived as a metaphor for the complexity of human existence and repurposed to symbolize the threats of the present time and the tools to deal with them.

Thanks in part to those early experiments, paper and cardboard have become increasingly present in the sculpture scene in recent decades.