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Recycle Time and Space

Summer 2018
Summer 2018
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Sally Wood Johnson   is an independent artist living and working at her home and studio on the side of Shades Mountain in central Alabama. She uses two and three dimensions to explore photography and handmade paper in several formats—sometimes constructions, sometimes books, sometimes multi-media works. The Alabama State Council on the Arts sent her to statewide destinations to teach hand papermaking to young people. She has served as artist in residence at the University of West Georgia in Carlton, Georgia, and at Jacksonville State University in Alabama. Johnson has mounted 31 solo exhibitions. All of the water that we enjoy on earth has been here since the beginning. This recycling of such an essential resource intrigues me. Knowing this makes me certain that recycling my paper art work is a valuable idea. In 1983, as a delegate participating in the International Paper Conference in Kyoto, I stayed with the Yamaguchi papermaking family in Imadate, Fukui, Japan. I had the distinct privilege of working in their handmadepaper mill. I recall watching women kneeling beside a running stream to pick the debris from paper-mulberry bark. From the cleaned bark, they produced pulp, which was formed by others into magnificent sheets of kozo paper. While they worked, I pounded fiber in a large wooden barrel of water, using a heavy wooden post to soften and separate the individual fibers. This experience heightened my awareness of the important function of water in the transformation of raw material into paper.

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After returning from Japan I thought a lot about material renewal and began to work with fibers that were available to me in the States. In 1986, I acquired linen pulp—from Kathryn and Howard Clark at Twinrocker in Brookston, Indiana—made from worn tablecloths that were used in the dining room at Purdue University. It was the best pulp I have ever used. I cast more than 200 sheets of paper that I used in the construction of a Sally Wood Johnson, Paper Curtain, installed at Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama, 1984, in the artist's solo exhibition titled "Tradition, Technology, and Transformation." The entire construction measured 10 x 10 x 3 feet deep; triangles of silver computer paper made by 3M Company were laminated into 9 x 9-inch cast sheets of recycled printmaking paper. All photos courtesy of the artist. summer 2018 - 39 A hand-painted linen paper sheet (8 x 11 inches) from Turtles and Fireflies, 2014, recycled from Linen Passage, 1986. large-scale work which I titled Linen Passage. The piece was made of 9-inch squares, 5 x 7½-inch sheets, and 8 x 15-inch sheets; I liked the distinctive accent the variations gave to the work. During the drying stage, I embellished each sheet with color and linen thread in random designs and stitching. The finished work consisted of two suspended sections of papers; each section was three rows deep and measured nine feet high by ten feet long. The two sections created a passageway for the viewer to walk through and experience the suggested beauty and softness with random "clues" scattered throughout the individual segments to pique curiosity. Linen Passage was widely exhibited in a number of museums, art centers, and a hospital in Alabama, Virginia, and Ohio; each installation adapting to the specific conditions of the site. The millennium arrived—Linen Passage was in storage for nearly 15 years—and it occurred to me that I could recycle this beautiful material into a new construction to share my current fascination with two species in nature: turtles and fireflies. I deconstructed the work and sent the linen-paper squares to Bridget O'Malley at Cave Paper in Minneapolis for her to tone them with black walnut and indigo dyes. For this new iteration, I turned the squares on their diagonals so that they hang from a corner. I painted images of turtles—land turtles, sea turtles, baby turtles hatching—and strung them together with black-linen, waxcoated bookbinding cord and suspended them in a grid which allowed space for the addition of fiber optics to convey the impression of fireflies in a synchronized lighting pattern imitating displays witnessed in my yard at night. Visitors to the exhibition, in 2014 at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, were provided with bench seating so they could contemplate the revealed mood and design. Looking back on the transformation of Linen Passage into Turtles and Fireflies, I am reminded that recycling has always been a consistent aspect of my work. One of my earliest paper projects involved recycling the leftover edges of my printmaking papers for an installation titled Paper Curtain. This was the first of my hanging-square constructions. I cut triangles of silver computer paper (sent to me by the 3M Company to use in my experimentation) and laminated them onto white cast sheets of recycled printmaking paper. I hung these squares from galvanized rods using linen thread. When this work was exhibited in "Tradition, Technology, and Transformation," my solo show at the Birmingham Museum of Art in 1984, a critic described it as "visualizing the sound of wind chimes." In the fifty years of presenting my work to the public, this is my favorite critique ever. Recycling is a universal principle related to everything in creation. In presenting, then re-presenting beautiful materials in an experiential setting, I hope to express the importance of natural surroundings and the fascinating creatures with whom we co-exist. From the darkness of night and the deep of the sea, Even descending to the Marianas Trench, To the deserts of land—dry—arid— In full day where heat and wind parent no shade— Life forms take on identities. Some as clever as turtles, others as brilliant as fireflies. Turtles and Fireflies, installed at Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama, 2014, consisting of fiber optics and linen paper sheets, recycled from Linen Passage, 1986, toned with black walnut and indigo dyes by Bridget O'Malley, Cave Paper, and hand-painted by the artist with images of turtles. The construction measured 7.5 x 9 x 3 feet, with fiber optics suspended above the work.