During my residency at Dieu Donné, I was mostly exploring the properties of the fiber abaca. I worked with it to make both sculptural pieces and flat works, and made many exciting discoveries in both dimensions.
I immensely enjoyed the physicality and direct handling of the wet material. As someone with no paper making experience, it was like trying to solve a puzzle, developing new strategies to manipulate and shape the fibers into ways that suited my aesthetic and temperament. My work has always been driven by a strong interest in my source materials. Fabrics have played a large role in my practice over the past 7 years or so. I have been using fabric as a base to paint upon, and exploring its qualities as it stretches over 3-dimensional forms.
At Dieu Donné, I was very surprised and excited to find that I could use paper much like fabric in 3-dimensional works, and ways to use paper on top of fabric that mimicked applied paint. For example, in the case of the sculptural works, I found I could cut darts into a sheet of wet, pressed abaca and carefully wrap it over wooden armatures. The places where the abaca over-lapped would adhere to one another, and with gentle pressing, nearly melt into one another. The paper tightened as it dried and found it’s final shape like a smooth tent spanning over hollows of the wood. The translucency and the strength of this fiber was astonishing! Abaca was everything I hoped it would be.
In the case of the flat works, I discovered a method of shaping pressed, wet abaca by sandwiching it between two sheets of tracing paper, and cutting it with a rotary blade. This technique allowed me to create precise shapes that I could easily handle and place with accuracy, on top of differently pigmented abaca, and/or together with other materials on cotton base sheets. Once pressed, the result was a fused, singular entity, and the cut out abaca shapes retained all of the precision of their sharp edges.
What a wonderful place Dieu Donné is, that encourages experimentation, and offers support and enthusiasm to individuals bringing their own ideas to an ancient craft. During my time at Dieu Donné I was working with new materials and in ways I had never known existed, and I thank my wonderful collaborator, Amy Jacobs, as well as the rest of the staff at Dieu Donné for offering me this thrilling and rare opportunity!
— Lael Marshall, 2014
Lael Marshall lives and works in New York City.