Over the last several years, I’ve used an array of salvaged discards — from old mattress springs to dead Christmas trees — as a means to orchestrate space, to participate in staged acts of transformation, and to engage the blurred boundary between nature and culture. During my Workspace Residency, I hoped to discover how papermaking might articulate my preoccupations in unforeseen ways.
With my collaborator, Amy Jacobs, I arrived at a plan to use cotton fiber as a base sheet and a thin layer of abaca on top, allowing me to seal contrasting material between the two. Back in my studio with scissors in hand, I mined my mountain of plastic bags, liberating glyphs, lines, and designs from their original meanings. Utilizing the blowout technique, Amy wielded a hose to retrieve pulp shapes I had cut out of mylar; those blocks of color appear in some of my drawings, too. I was smitten with the entire process. Before long, I was bringing wet abaca sheets back to my studio, obsessively wrapping an accumulation of abandoned toys and other cast-offs to see how they might change with a new skin.
Combining plant and plastic via handmade paper yielded a unique dynamic — they seemed to both resist and adhere to one another, often resulting in subtle pockets of air between the layers. Outcomes were unpredictable since each plastic bag (some from Syria, Mexico, and India) reacted differently to being sandwiched between plant fibers. As for the wrapped objects, abaca’s shrinking habits changed with the weather. In fact, papermaking is elemental, a watery realm of shifting states; Dieu Donné proved to be an ideal place to deepen my involvement with materials and their capacity for transformation.
My thanks to Amy Jacobs for being a great guide into new territory, and to Kathleen Flynn, Jessica Svenson, Paul Wong, and the entire staff at Dieu Donné for their generous support.
— Ilene Sunshine, 2011
Ilene Sunshine lives and works in New York City. She attended Boston University’s School of Fine Arts and graduated with a BFA in Sculpture in 1979.