A new age for Paper
by Purva Chawla
Where does our fascination with paper originate?
Is it the delicate beauty of the material or its surprising strength?
Is it how firmly rooted it is in cultures across the world and embedded in our history? Or perhaps it is how much potential paper has to transform endlessly in the future?
Is it the smooth, crisp finish of machined rolls that invites our touch, or is it the irregular, soft edges of handmade, crafted paper?
Our pull towards this lightweight and versatile material is surely a union of all these factors. Papermaking itself–both manual and industrial–is a beautiful intersection of art, science, and technology. In the 21st century, the diverse nature and appeal of paper have elevated it to even more significance than it previously had. No longer limited to being the underlay for writing, print, signage, or packaging, today paper wears many hats–it serves as art, structure, architecture, clothing, interior finishes and the basis of new material composites.
For centuries, Paper has been dyed, inscribed and molded. Today it is being made from diverse recycled materials (natural and synthetic), wetted and imbued with new ingredients and technology, blended and layered in various compositions to generate composites, and folded and pressed into complex geometries. In additional to playing new functional roles on its own, paper and its processes of making continue to inspire the making of other cutting edge materials.
As large paper-making mills, global brands, individual craftsmen and consumers all partake in this fascinating narrative; we decided to put paper at the heart of our upcoming exhibition for London Craft Week. Partnering with global paper-making brand G. F Smith, which has been investigating paper-making and delivering quality products for over 130 years, we are curating 'Beyond Paper–The Craft of Material Making,' an immersive display of materials and artifacts based on paper, and several innovations beyond.
Delving into the world of paper, and other aligned and innovative materials, some of the themes and projects that will feature in our exhibition are described below. For a tactile, and hands-on experience, we encourage you to visit the show from 8th to 11th May 2019, in London, at the G.F Smith showroom. More details here.
Resilience–Paper as Structure
We're inclined to believe that Paper and Water are foes. Our experience with paper supports this more often than not (think of wilted notebooks and prints when water drops on them). Ironically, the traditional process of making paper begins with a mixture of cellulose fibers and mucilage which is flooded in water. Designer Pao Hui Kao has reframed the relationship between water and paper and has chosen to celebrate the wrinkling and shrinking of paper that occurs when it comes in contact with water and subsequently dries.
Pao realized that when the paper absorbs water, it brings strength to the inner structure of the material. Water interferes with the flattened net of fibers, and it rearranges their position. Water can allow the paper to escape from the more rigid forms given by industrial production and turn it into a stronger material. Pao's process of wetting and drying paper allows her to create three dimensional, sculptural forms that are free-standing and robust, holding their shapes as artworks, and interior design elements.
At the other end of the spectrum, at a more industrial scale, Richlite is a robust architectural material created from resin-infused paper. The surface material is made via the compaction of multiple layers of paper (in alternating directions) along with a thermosetting resin, under pressure and heat. It has served the aerospace, marine, sports, automotive, architecture, and design industries.
New Composition–Paper as a Pathway for Waste
Taking the concept of 'recycled paper' up a notch, POOPOOPAPER is made fro–you guessed it–Poo, or Dung. Sourced from a variety of different fiber-eating vegetarian animals such as elephants, cows, horses, and others, POOPOOPAPER products are handcrafted, natural, tree-free, upcycled, and odorless. The highly functional material is being used widely in art, craft, and educational arenas.
Paper, or a material that behaves like it, need not be cast from traditional natural cellulose at all. ECOPET, a material created by Teijin Frontier in Japan stands testament to this. The company turns recycled collected PET bottles into Polyester fibers that are then spun into sheet form. The result is printable sheets of ' ECOPET' paper that do not dissolve in water, or the application of this material to products such as bags, wallets, packaging and more.
Closer to home, G.F Smith's Extract Paper collection is crafted from disposable plastic-lined coffee cups, which would have otherwise been sent to landfills. Working with CupCycling, a process invented by James Cropper, post-consumer cups are separated into their components of plastic lining and paper core, and the paper fibers are recycled into new Extract paper sheets.
New Material Making–Paper as the base for composites
Canadian design studio Dear Human uses post-consumer paper, collected from local businesses, to create a composite and modular design unit known as Papertile. The robust and acoustic tiles are offered in diverse shapes and sizes, can be printed on like paper, and used in various interior design applications.
Baux, the Swedish manufacturer of acoustic products, has used a combination of natural ingredients including wood pulp (used to create paper) to deliver a water repellant, fire-retardant, and highly acoustic panel product. Their material–BAUX Acoustic Pulp– is made out of sustainably harvested Swedish fir and pine trees, recycled water, non-GMO wheat bran, potato starch, plant-derived wax, and citrus fruit peels. Using no chemicals at all, makers of the material use wheat bran to achieve coloring and shades within in, and laser-cut origami-inspired patterns on the surface to achieve optimum acoustic behavior.
Reversing the conventional pathway of wood to paper, Newspaperwood uses a combination of recycled newspapers to create a dense 'log,' which when sliced, reveals layers of a new material with a grain similar to wood. The material serves as a decorative veneer.
New Functionality–Regeneration and Purification through Paper.
The lightweight, cost-effective and disposable nature of paper becomes an asset for products such as 'Bee-Saving Paper' and Mesopaper, which boast of functionality and technology needed to tackle 21st-century problems in a centuries-old material.
Bee Saving Paper aims to prevent bee extinction and exhaustion, resulting from massive urbanization, among other factors. Embedded with glucose, and circles of water-soluble UV ink (visible to bees), the paper serves as an attractive "rest stop" and refueling station for exhausted bees, who have more considerable distances to cover between plants today. The paper can be used for applications such as paper bags, parking tickets, picnic plates and more, which can perform the additional role of helping feed bees outdoors. When the paper falls to the ground and degrades, seeds of the honey plant, Lacy Phacelia embedded inside can sprout, further aiding the regeneration of the Bee population.
Where Bee Saving paper nourishes, Mesopaper purifies. The paper filter, developed by Mesofilter Inc. is a low-cost water purification solution, aimed at developing countries or areas impacted by a disaster. The filter, which is made with three layers of bamboo paper and ceramic granules embedded inside, is able to immobilize arsenic, lead, mercury, and other heavy metals from water, as well as radioactive elements, bacteria, and viruses. Best of all, the paper does not leach these captured toxins and can be easily disposed of.
Beyond Paper: Paper as Inspiration
Finally, the flexible, lightweight, and compostable nature of paper continues to offer a template for the design of new materials. Equally, techniques first employed on paper have been implemented on other materials with great success; folding and steaming have been applied on materials such as wood veneer, textile, and even glass to reveal new aesthetic and functional possibilities.
Tesler+Mendelovitch use complex geometries cut into 'thin wood textiles' to create three-dimensional forms that are lightweight yet extremely strong. Using folding and half-cut techniques one might associate with paper, they create furniture, wall paneling, and even accessories that are resilient and yet 'paperweight'.
Jule Waibel, a designer whose work encompasses an entire "folded universe," is an expert at folding materials into three-dimensional forms. Starting with paper, her folding, pleating and steaming methods have extended to wood, fabric, plastic and glass and yield objects and installations of all scales.
To learn more about paper, and the makers of unique paper-based materials, do visit our exhibitions and attend our series of talks during London Craft Week.