All due respect to Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan, the medium really is the message in an upcoming exhibit at the Museum of Wisconsin Art’s downtown Milwaukee gallery at Saint Kate–The Arts Hotel. “Handmade Paper Stories,” which runs March 4–May 15 highlights the work of four Madison artists, and the paper they used goes beyond being merely a medium for art, but becoming the art itself.
Fiber artists Hannah O’Hare Bennett, Mary Hark, Henry Obeng and Maria Amalia Wood are all affiliated with UW-Madison, and their work is remarkable both in its depth and simplicity. MOWA curatorial engagement fellow Anwar Floyd-Pruitt [MFA ’20], who curated this exhibit, took a moment to tell us about the unique concept behind the works.
Most viewers see paper as just the vehicle for art. What makes these works stand out?
Paper is often viewed solely as the substrate for another medium, such as drawing, painting and printmaking. Even in the cases of origami or paper cutting, where no additional material is added, the paper itself is still not the art as much as the cuts or folds that transform a single sheet into a sculpture. I think paper itself becomes art when a single sheet is enough to satisfy both the maker and the viewer, when nothing needs to be added or subtracted from the newly dried matrix of cellulose fiber. One of the aspects that stands out in homemade paper is how the elements that comprise paper are often still recognizable even after they’ve been transformed into sheets. Oftentimes, one can see and feel the interlocking fibers and know the source of the constituent material that forms a sheet.