UPDATE 6/16: Congratulations to Libby, the winner of our Paper: Tear, Fold, Rip, Crease, Cut contest! Libby teaches art at an elementary school in Memphis, Tennessee, where the book will live come September. Thanks again to everyone who entered.
Didn’t win? Still want a copy? Black Dog Publishing is kindly offering 40% off the retail price of the book to our readers. Please email them directly to take advantage of this special offer.
With businesses large and small going paperless and the concept of a “paper trail” nearing obsolescence, pressed wood pulp is slowly becoming an anomaly in an increasingly digitized world. However, paper’s 2,000-year history is far from over, thanks to its irreplaceable qualities as an artistic medium. London’s Black Dog Publishing celebrates the humble page with a new book, Paper: Tear, Fold, Rip, Crease, Cut, which traces paper’s origins and development, champions current innovations in production and recycling, and spotlights the work of more than 50 artists and designers. We chat with the book’s editor, Paul Sloman, to find out more about paper’s rightful place in the 21st century.
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Flavorpill: With banks, utilities, and newspapers all going “paperless,” is Paper partially a eulogy for the medium?
Paul Sloman: The opposite, in fact. I see these developments as providing an opportunity for a kind of rebirth of the medium. Paper is far from obsolete. I have always though that such a precious medium is wasted on bank statements and train tickets, and it pleases me to think that it will continue to retreat from use in these areas. And as it does so, the quality of paper is likely to improve, as people become more aware of the things that can make it so special. So Paper is meant to signify a reawakening of the potential of the medium, which began as a highly precious material and has only really existed as a mass-produced carrier of disposable information during our rather wasteful twentieth century. This is not to say that it should become a luxury affordable to only a few as it once was – there is no way that will happen. But at least it might be accorded a little more respect.
FP: The book offers an impressive lesson in paper’s long history, while emphasizing that the medium is still evolving. Are you excited by technological advances in the world of paper?
PS: Of course, particularly in the areas of recycling. The destruction of trees to make paper has always been an uncomfortable point for me — and is another reason why it is so good to see banks and other companies going increasingly online — but recycled paper is developing in all sorts of interesting ways. The fact remains that recycled papers will still cost more at the moment, but it is becoming increasingly possible to source affordable recycled papers. And the best are those that embrace their recycled status, complete with inclusions (specks of color or dirt in the paper), as with Bier, a gritty looking paper made from old beer labels. The problem that many people don’t realize with pure white recycled papers is that they actually often tend to do more damage to the environment (albeit in different ways) than unrecycled paper. It is much better to go rough-and-ready with your recycled choices, and it often looks and feels more interesting too.
FP: Paper also celebrates artists and designers who recycle. Do you have a favorite example of paper, reused?
PS: From the book, the recycled aspect really comes to the fore amongst those experimenting in fashion. Gary Harvey’s dress constructed from multiple copies of the Financial Times is brilliant, as and I love the somewhat absurd idea of making dresses from toilet paper — traditionally a recycled medium — that the toilet tissue company Cashmere has championed so wonderfully. And Michael Cepress has done similar things with men’s collars and copies of the Yellow Pages. Cepress aside, this is “concept” fashion. You can’t really wear them. But it prompts you to think more open-mindedly about where paper can be reused. And one of my favorite examples of a practical application of this principle is Jens Praet’s fully functional furniture made out of compressed, shredded documents. So there is still some use for those destroyed bank statements yet.
FP: As more information becomes available digitally, it seems that the value of paper as a tactile experience may increase. Is paper becoming a luxury?
PS: Well, as I mentioned, it will probably become more luxurious in that it will become less of a nuisance and more of a pleasure (I’m being hopeful about the demise of junk mail on the doorstep), but it isn’t suddenly going to cost a fortune. And you’re still going to have mass-produced commodities like cereal boxes and kitchen paper — you can’t mop up your spilt wine with a computer screen. I think its use elsewhere will just be a little more considered, and hopefully in the press and publishing industries, its quality a little better. The material that these things are printed on, after all, is the essential thing that differentiates them from reading online, and I expect it will increasingly play a part in consumers’ decision-making. It is a good time for paper.