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November 02


Paper Fascination

- by Anu

The Auroville Press inspired an unusual exhibition. A review.


The Paper Folly Team: Aprita, Nele, Gowri, Deepa, Luisa, Shaleija, Hervé, Lalit with baby, Arzoo, Adil, Rakhee and Jason

Paper is a magical thing. In the hills above Manali a shepherd boy stitches together the fine bark of a Himalayan tree to make school notebooks. In China and Japan paper is precious, treated with respect. Paper has a mystique that combines infinite utility with a throw away lightness and refinement. This rich experience of paper was on display at the Bharat Nivas gallery in Auroville, August through September: at an exceptional exhibition called Paper Folly, the result of an artist's workshop, organised by Auroville Press, the creators of a unique line of hand-made paper and imaginative products.

One of the exhibitsThe exhibition covered two levels. On the ground floor, one encountered large, elegant sheets made from a variety of fibres: cotton, banana, casuarina needles and rosella. Big objects made from paper offered viewers a concentrated impact of the material: a hefty granite coloured pillow lying on the floor was, in fact, made from 'banana paper'. An over-size white bowl moulded on a dish antenna was another startling piece. On the next floor one was surprised by the outburst of multiple energies, the work of different artists and designers invited to participate in the paper workshop organised by Auroville Press.

What led to such splendid folly?

In 1995, Auroville Press was going through a financially-trying time. Paper was essential for the ideas they wanted to develop: was there a solution? One day Serge reflected, "We have to make paper," an idea which appealed to Alain instantly. Eventually, Hervé, Luisa and Olivier took over the production and design side of the new hand-made paper section.

"In the beginning we knew nothing," Hervé says simply, "so much nothing," he laughs, "that we didn't know what questions to ask. Then Alain went to Chennai and brought back photocopies of two books on paper and, one Sunday, we tried out our first paper sample with an idli mixer at Pour Tous." Luisa is more pragmatic. "In the beginning we had this ambition to produce handmade paper that would look like stuff that is generally made. Then," her eyes light up, "we began to experiment, and in a short time we had done so much that we were ourselves surprised and we began to get beautiful results."

Rakhee participated in this phase and even today, when she is busy with her own pottery, she maintains a close contact. "The basic thing we kept in mind was the principle of paper itself, taking care it doesn't become heavy, is easy to handle, keeps its natural quality. Then it got so much fun that even stuff we thought was very wild could actually be used for products."

Their enthusiasm proved so infectious that even the workers were inspired to bring material from the village and join the initial round of experimentation. "We never say this is possible or not possible, we say, 'We Try': that is our motto." More importantly for Luisa, the paper was finally crafted, made from things of life all around them, "I felt this paper belonged to Auroville, not only because of the materials but because of the spirit that went with it."
Both Herve and Luisa stress the help and kindness they have received from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Handmade Paper Factory, in Pondicherry. "What they know they share and whenever we make a new paper we show it to them," says Hervé, "they have come here a few times and are most encouraging."

A walk through the storeroom reveals enchanting results. Paper of different grain and texture: fine to caress, embedded with leaves, engraved like stone; paper blonde as wheat, soft at felt, some like sheets of granite; some austere, some serene, some like a riot at a fair. All these translate into products.

"We do everything from posters to cards, letter-paper sets, portfolios, bags, artists' paper." Luisa pulls out a lovely folder in white. A natural fibre sweeps through it like a calligrapher's brush-stroke. "And we want to do everything else that will evolve." Since two years they have been exporting to Switzerland, Italy, England, Ireland and the U.S. Again, the difference is in the imaginative and elegant styling of their products. "For example," says Rakhee, "for the paper-bags for a client in the U.K. we decided to put leaves only at the bottom of the paper." This meant no extra cutting and the possibility of keeping at least one natural edge apparent. Their experiments have led to a paper that contains all design elements within itself, eliminating the elaborate cut, paste and print processes normally used which can make paper rigid or loose its charm.

"It was Rakhee's idea to do a workshop and the exhibition," said Luisa. "I was hesitant: Oh my god, how? Where's the time? But Rakhee pushed! Hervé said yes immediately so I followed!" Hervé adds: "People always ask what we are doing. No one knew we were making paper, so this seemed the best way to share. There's a lot of beautiful stuff going on in Auroville you know, I hope other units will also show their work."

Organising the workshop cum exhibition was a huge amount of work. Rakhee's idea was not only to show the paper but combine ideas with other artists, designers and crafts people as well. "It was exhausting but it turned out very well." Hervé says. "People were really happy with the experience. They discovered the material. Someone like Adil, being a potter, was immediately at ease with the material. It was really worth it."

Any unusual experiments? I ask Hervé.

"I once tried elephant dung. They use it in Sri Lanka."

"You did? And?"

"We got a sheet of paper that doesn't smell so bad. But Luisa keeps it far away."

See also:
Paper Folly  |  Gallery

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