My grandparent’s generation passed on a cardboard box of photographs filled with images of family members left behind in Poland who perished in the Holocaust, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I couldn’t throw it out but it seemed like a heavy weight to be their custodian. Many years later I decided to use these photographs directly in my process of handmade paper.
My figures exist in a theater of recurring images and gestures—that combine and recombine through chance and accident—mimicking the randomness of fate. My process also echoes my own experience with cancer. The news shakes you with that same uncertainty of outcome. These works involve melancholic memory and a sense of loss.
Despite the emphasis on speed in our current culture, I choose to be a maker of physical objects that require slow manual labor. Fibers need to be beaten, pulled from water and couched in layers. With cotton, linen or other plant materials, I engage with the immediacy of working wet into wet as an integral part of my process. I mix pulp, pigments, and photographic fragments. I blow on dust or ashes, and I shroud or reveal with a translucent skin of abaca, all integrated in the moment the paper is made.
This process allows me to access the past. I consciously capture or undermine the representation of heroic symbols, inverting their meaning by pairing color and gesture to modify the role of these symbols. I intend my work to trigger memories that unite my individual experiences with those that expand beyond me.
© susan shaw 2014