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Paper Sample: Plasticane Paper

Winter 2023
Winter 2023
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Paper Sample:
Plasticane Paper

hannah chalew

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“Plasticane” paper is a combination of bagasse, the waste product of sugarcane production, and shredded disposable plastic waste, the byproduct of fossil-fuel extraction. This material connects the legacy of colonization and enslavement with the current petrochemical age. Since the time of forced-labor plantations where sugarcane was a staple chattel-slavery crop, Louisiana’s people and their ecologies have been extracted and exploited. This capitalist, racist mindset continues into our current era of fossil-fuel extraction, burning, and refining.

Both raw materials for this paper are considered waste products in Louisiana, but I view them as renewable resources. I gather the bagasse from sugarcane refineries that produce mountains of this byproduct, and I collect plastic waste from the urban environment around my studio. To be as fossil-free as possible, I ferment the bagasse with lye in my studio courtyard for several months, instead of cooking it. Regular stirring and the passive forces of heat and time break down the fibers until they are ready for washing. After pulping the bagasse in my Hollander beater, I add 1 part abaca to 3 parts bagasse to strengthen the paper. I also add calcium carbonate, methyl cellulose, and sizing to the pulp. Then, I shred the plastic waste with a paper shredder and regularly add it to a vat of the pulp as I pull sheets. I produce this paper with a 12 x 12-inch mould and deckle. As I couch the small sheets, I overlap and tile them to form large 4 x 6-foot pieces of papers.

I use plasticane paper for both traditional drawings and a three-dimensional technique I call “sculptural drawing.” In my work, plasticane holds the history of how we got to this moment in time, and my drawings present a future our descendants might inherit if we don’t change course. How can we break these cycles and imagine a livable future for Louisiana and beyond? Through my work with renewable materials from my ecosystem, I offer a paradigm shift on how we can relate to our world.