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Beyond the White Rectangle

Summer 2016
Summer 2016
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Originally from the California Bay Area, Jillian Bruschera is an interdisciplinary artist and arts activist creating works in visual art, writing, public installation, body performance, and social practice. Alternating between solo and communal practice, she uses handmade, recycled paper is a primary material for installation, assemblage, and performance. As founder and proprietor of The Mobile Mill, Bruschera works as a traveling teaching artist in hand papermaking. Large empty troughs, morgue-like metal tables, and unfamiliar hydraulic machinery sit on a plastic floor with drains; white walls covered with what look like agricultural hand tools. Water hoses dangle from the ceiling, and in a smaller interior room live a stovetop, a front-load washer, a refrigerator labeled "Not for food," and three mysterious machines with oversized power-switch buttons. Miscellaneous pairs of rain boots congregate nearby on a wooden shelf, a fleet of teal-blue aprons hanging on hooks beside them. A third room full of box fans and cardboards, and just outside the doorway, row after row of clotheslines packed full with pinned-up white fabrics. It was the first paper studio I ever saw. No one at work, no one on hand to explain how all the parts fit together. The thing about this place is that it simply never makes sense without the accompanying human presence.

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People are what make a space, a place. A room is just a room until something happens inside of it; objects are useless without users. And so I made my mind up to know the place, to use the tools, and to fill the room with life. When the people there did arrive, they brought meaning to the paper studio. One by one the unidentified studio contents came to life via my first papermaking teachers—professors and peers at Columbia College Chicago's Center for Book, Paper, and Print. I enrolled in the MFA Interdisciplinary Arts program, and since day one, hand papermaking has been a communal process in my life. My experiences making paper have always involved sharing tools and space as well as knowledge of the craft. As such I recognize hand papermaking as a predominantly social practice. While I can certainly produce sheets working alone in the studio, I continue to seek out ways to be in rooms with people. The first sheet of paper I ever made was an abaca on cotton sheet with live moss between the two surfaces. Approaching the medium as a painter, drawer, and graphic designer, the action of working in the paper, rather than on the paper, was a real fireworks moment for me. I fell in love with the wild side of handmade paper, liking everything that was "wrong" about it: the rippled papermaker's tears, the stringy veins left behind by air bubbles, the inconsistent deckle edge, and the funky textured surfaces. I have always looked beyond the white, cotton-linter rectangle. The material possibilities and applications of paper as a medium are seemingly endless. Making paper from paper certainly sounds like a silly idea, but it is an idea that got stuck in my head long ago. Hand papermaking opened up my eyes to the world of recycled artmaking, instilling in me an eco-consciousness that continues to resonate throughout my interdisciplinary art practice. Giving new life to old remnants of our human consumption remains a priority. There is this funny point that most new papermakers hit: it's that moment when you want to turn every material in your life—literally anything that remotely looks like it might make paper— into handmade paper. I tried my hand at papermaking and woke up a waste-fiber scavenger the next day. Shred, pulp, experiment, repeat. Old drawings, magazines, school papers, litter on the street, cardboard boxes from alleyways, fancy paper scraps from the college bindery and print shop. My worn-out clothing went into the beaters, hikes at home in the California woods began to yield new plant treasures, and I began making sheets from the gnarly leftover pulp in the studio sinks and compost bins. To this day I am crazy about the chunky-paper-scrap quality of recycled paper pulp produced by a house blender. The paper studio remains a place of discovery for me, though my paper practice is no longer dependent on a room. From putting my naked human body into a vat of pulp for live performance, to making paper with strangers on a sidewalk via The Mobile Mill,1 to couching handmade papers onto surfaces of the public realm, and traveling abroad with my studio-in-a-suitcase Papermaker's Pack,2 the idea of what a paper studio can be has grown far beyond a room full of objects. Nonetheless I think about that room in Chicago often, recognizing that my experience there has deeply influenced the way I think about hand papermaking, and my art practice at large. ___________ notes 1. The Mobile Mill is a traveling paper studio that I built in 2013 to enable "popup" hand papermaking production. For more, see Melissa Potter's article, "People's Paper: Young Practitioners take Papermaking to New Publics," in this issue of Hand Papermaking; also go to the digital project archive online at themobilemill 2. Jillian Bruschera, "Introducing the Papermaker's Pack," from the project blog, April 16, 2015, the-papermakers-pack. Jillian Bruschera, Does an –ING always move?, 2013, 11 x 9 inches, letterpress on handmade paper (recycled pulp and linen paper), zipper. Photo: Maxum Bruschera. Miscellaneous waste fibers making their way through the beater. Courtesy of the author. summer 2016 - 13 Paper Sample: wastemade jillian bruschera This batch of wastemade papers serves as an example of handmade paper produced with public participants while working on the road via The Mobile Mill, a traveling paper studio. Often making paper in a temporary, on-the-go setting, the use of pre- and post-consumer waste fibers serves as both a way to produce pulp quickly and a means to promote ecological awareness. All materials—including newspaper ads, damaged book pages, letterpress and bindery scraps from the Penland School of Craft recycling bins, USPS cardboard boxes received, used paper plates, old drawings on newsprint, and a beer box—were salvaged from various trash and recycling bins. Shredded by hand and pulped with a Critter Hollander beater, no additives or pigments were added to wastemade papers. Using tools built to share with the public during my road travels, I formed the sheets using a letter-sized Western brass-and-wood mould and deckle. I couched the sheets onto aluminum road-sign press boards (sourced from scrapyards) topped with 100-percent wool felts and second-hand synthetic Pellons. I pressed the post between two sheets of steel in a small Harbor Freight hydraulic press modified to fit my mobile needs. I air dried the sheets, still on their Pellons pin-clipped onto a clothesline. When dried, I peeled the papers from the Pellons and flattened them out under the weight of large textbooks. I should also note that in preparing the pulp, I do not always bring the Hollander roller all the way down. In doing so I am able to produce a chunky-scrap appearance in my papers that often resembles that of granite. The mix of raw materials tends to produce sludgy colored sheets of handmade paper with two very distinctive surfaces. The finer fibers tend to settle on the mould surface while the chunky scraps stay buoyant and remain on top during drainage of the sheet. When I am not working with the Critter beater, I use an olive-green Osterizer blender, straight out of the 1970s, passed along to me from my grandmother. In my experience making pulp with blenders, the older the model, the better. In the case of working even smaller with The Papermaker's Pack, I use a battery-powered hand-stick blender to produce pulp for crash-course papermaking in unconventional making spaces.