Nagashizuki

I am forming sheets of paper, using kozo pulp, at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. July 2019. Thanks to Alexa Horochowski for shooting the video!


In July 2019 I did a workshop at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts on Nagashizuki, or Japanese Papermaking. Bridget O’Malley taught the class, and is a former student of Tim Barrett, author of a foundational book and technical guide on the subject. The most noticeable characteristic of Japanese-style (and also more broadly East and South Asian-style) paper is that it can be made to be very thin. A couple incorrect myths: 1) except in rare circumstances, this is not rice paper, and 2) Japanese paper does not have to be thin; you can make it as thick as you like. The first myth is a colonial layover, from Europeans who did not understand how the paper was made. And … for thicker paper, just imagine me doing this scooping and dipping process in the video over and over until the fibers have piled up.

What plant is used, then? There are three main ones—kozo, gampi, and mitsumata. Kozo tends to be the most common and available, while mitsumata is the rarest. The inner bark of each of these shrubs is harvested, cooked, cleaned, beaten, and then put in a vat with water.

But wait! That’s not just water in the vat. The real key to making thin paper is not the plant species selection alone. It is crucial to add a deflocculant to the water—a.k.a. formation aid, a.k.a. tororo-aoi, a.k.a. slime—so that the inner bark fibers remain in a dispersed or suspended state. The slime-water takes longer to sift through the bamboo strainer because it’s thicker than water (see video), but this means the fibers are already calmly and evenly falling onto the filter pad, which makes for thin and strong paper.

Carriage House in Brooklyn, NY is a great resource for papermaking materials, and Bridget’s Minneapolis shop is Cave Paper.

These are “couched” sheets of paper, meaning that they have been removed from the bamboo filter and are now resting on felt awaiting the press. The press will remove most of the slime-water, then they are dried and ready to use!

These are “couched” sheets of paper, meaning that they have been removed from the bamboo filter and are now resting on felt awaiting the press. The press will remove most of the slime-water, then they are dried and ready to use!

Representing Art Walks

This post is inspired by my involvement in the course Walking as Artistic Practice, taught by Ellen Mueller at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in summer 2019.  Mueller showed the class Hamish Fulton’s printed page of words, the only shared object from his seven-day walk in Iceland in 1996 (below).

Fulton.PNG

One question that has emerged for me with some precision is this: what is the role of re-mediation in walking-as-art?  The answer has to do with the purpose of the walk for the artist.  If the walk fully lacks any apparatus of communication, it’s hard for me to believe that it elevates beyond personal introspection into the field of art.  Then again, communication is a low bar for entry.  Even if you walk alone and don’t tell anyone or take any pictures or write anything down or have even a single thought, you still are likely to be seen by someone, and perhaps this is the communication: you’re affecting someone or something around you.

Being in the world intentionally is perhaps enough to make it an act of artistic practice.  It seems that Fulton wants this to be enough, but is burdened by the need to make something, however simple, to communicate what he’s done to others. By consciously turning on intention and moving around, you are affecting the world.  I like this idea, and yet have such a hard time not telling everyone about it!  As if to say “look, I did this walk and it’s a valuable practice … others ought to try it … it changes the world … art is amazing … let me tweet this out!”  I feel like I ought to be organizing these kinds of walks and outlining what the purpose of the walk is.  If I just do the walk and know that I’m somehow subtly affecting the world with karmic goodness, but don’t create something in its wake, I’m never satisfied.  I want to at least write about the experience and share it with my network of colleagues and friends.  Or sift through the thousands of photographs taken in sequence on my GoPro camera.  But then the walk is about the production of an essay, a series of photographs, “reflections.”  To produce something is to reflect what I want to see. 

For me, there is something revolutionary—in the sense of a dramatic change of the social order—about what I want to see when I walk.I look at how urban space is built and organized, and I try to imagine how it might otherwise be.Imagining the otherwise, so to speak, is imagining how different social organizations and different economic realities might lead to different kinds of built environments.It’s an architecture-inspired vision (though an architect might say that material construction precedes social revolution) and likely explains why I am so fascinated with the shape of buildings on my walks, and especially when they seem to settle in and hide in their surroundings (see below).

Blue Cross Blue Shield building, Eagan, Minnesota. Photo by Nicholas Bauch, 2019.

Blue Cross Blue Shield building, Eagan, Minnesota. Photo by Nicholas Bauch, 2019.

Types and Sets

I’m revisiting one of my favorite architecture books as I find myself thinking frequently about possible typologies of suburban landscapes.  The book is Learning From Las Vegas (1977), by Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour.  The premise of the book is that—at least in 1977—Las Vegas tended to confound inherited forms of the built environment, both in how buildings are designed and in how they live together in an urban context. 

The authors and their team of student researchers are interested in (and believe in) an underlying structure for cities, and show how Las Vegas is a new way to make a city.  The claims often overreach, but they are not what makes the book remarkable.  Mixed with the prose is a series of analytical-visual typologies that break down—using photographs, maps, and sketches—the constituent parts of the city.  Reminiscent here is Christopher Alexander et al.’s urban typology A Pattern Language, published in the same year. 

Casinos on the Las Vegas strip, with typologies of “front,” “side,” “parts,” “entrance,” and “parking.” Learning From Las Vegas, 1977.

I am attracted to this visual-descriptive way of picking apart the urban environment because it is a method for sense-making.  It helps answer the question “what is this place?”  The typology may appear cold and distanced at first, but given that it bears the mark of its maker, there is lots of room for playful and critical generation of types.