A new exhibition, titled Paper, has just open at the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea based on one medium which is becoming more and more scarce: paper. We are living in an increasingly 'paperless' society. We encourage paperless offices, printed newspapers are in decline, communications until very recently documented on paper are now sent by email, and even paper money is steadily diminishing. The temporality of the material has never been more evident.
The 44 international artists in this exhibition challenge our received ideas and expectations about paper as a material and, across a range of media (drawing, collage, sculpture, painting and installation), demonstrate its richness and versatility. The show, although uneven, shows that paper is still a much loved medium by artists and there is room for experimenting with interesting results. Paper has this quiet and at the same time strong presence not shared by other more modern media. It has this sense of documenting what we think the reality is and we are still inclined to believe that what it is being printed on paper is true. Those qualities allow the artists to be rather playful.
Steven Lowery (UK), work pictured above, displays a cunning naïvety in his works with the use of reconstructed phrases; Rachel Adams (UK) drapes remnants of furniture in crinkled, delicate paper to create large sculptural forms reminiscent of the human form when reclining or seated; Nina Katchadourian (US) takes self-portraits in aeroplane toilets in a 15th-century Flemish style, protective paper seats standing in for items of clothing; Rebecca Turner (UK) plays with our ideas of paper as a near-weightless medium with her huge gravity-defying ball of pulp suspended from a wall.
Kura Shomali (Democratic Republic of the Congo) collages snippets of images by celebrated African photographers such as Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé to evoke the chaos of Kinshasa where he lives. Annie Kevans (UK) uses paper in a more traditional way, as the surface for her astonishing paintings of dictators that appear to depict an ideal of innocence.
Tom Thayer (US), artwork pictured above, recreates poetical statements. Many of his objects serve multiple purposes: collages created for the animations seen here are framed as artworks in their own right; during performances, puppets are brought to life and fragile contraptions hanging silently overhead become musical instruments. Éric Manginaud (France) makes life-size drawings of archival photographs taken from the State Care and Medical Facility in Weilmünster, in which Jewish patients were sterilised or
starved under the Nazis. Paul Westcombe (UK) creates detailed drawings on paper coffee cups, a surface he began using while working as a car park attendant.
"There does seem to be something going on with paper," said Rebecca Wilson, the Saatchi Gallery's director . "One of the things that marks this gallery out from other places is that it tends to be led by what artists are doing rather than what a curator might think artists are doing."
The medium of paper has opened up a vast array of artistic routes for the artists in this exhibition. Its throwaway status allows for powerful and witty inversions of high and low culture and charged references to newspapers, archives and protest posters. Gone may be the days of extensive filing but in the hands of these artists paper, the simplest and most ancient of materials, is vividly alive and physically present.