The Meticulously Slow Art Form

From fairy tale author H.C. Andersen’s ground-breaking paper cut-outs in the 1860s to today’s contemporary art scene, the humble material of paper has undergone a fascinating development.

If you happened to walk along Copenhagen’s main shopping street in December 2013, your attention would have been drawn to the high-end fashion store Birger Christensen by a myriad of detailed paper sculptures by Danish designer Marianne Eriksen Scott-Hansen adorning the windows. The 1,500 small hand-made paper cuttings were the result of several months of meticulous work, and the designer, also known from Danish fashion duo Daughters of Style, has thereby entered into a tradition where paper art is the medium for telling magical tales in an otherwise rapidly changing digital world.

Traditionally we associate the Nordic paper cut-outs with gækkebreve, cut paper holiday cards, but in recent years many artists and designers have become aware of the potential of the ancient fragile material. Their artistic heritage is the paper cuttings of great Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, who throughout his career would carry a pair of scissors alongside his notebook, always ready if inspiration suddenly struck. His paper cut-outs have no direct connection to his writing, but the media were nevertheless somehow united. While reading aloud from his famous fairy tales, he would let his imagination take over and cut swans, male dancers, and dreamy ballerinas in inventive forms and compositions.

Modern Nordic artists draw on history, but at the same time break free of the rigorous framework pervading the stringent, figurative tradition and letting their imagination run free in the process. When dealing with the so-called psaligraphy, the art of cutting out silhouettes, Danish-born Karen Bit Vejle merits mentioning. Currently residing in Norway, Vejle has done projects for Hermés, Royal Smushi Café, and Georg Jensen, showing her highly delicate and detailed single piece cut-out made exclusively with a pair of scissors and one large piece of paper. Her travelling solo exhibition, The Fragile Beauty of Paper Cutting, proved that these unforgettable, almost magical and poetic motifs are capable of making time stand still – and the results are very clearly worth every arduous hour.

The same can be said about the Denmark-based Japanese artist Yuko Takada Keller, who draws on her cultural background when making her airy 3-dimensional paper installations. Since her first Danish solo exhibition in 1999, she has refined her artistic language, creating magnificent light interventions that appeal to a Northern aesthetic. Her work displays thousands of carved, hand-painted pieces of tracing paper transform into rhythmic art installations, whether hanging from the ceiling of a church or ascending from the ground in a gallery space. Despite their different approaches to the paper medium, Vejle and Keller both draw on the specifications of the scenery as well as the history of the surrounding space, elevating storytelling to a new level.

Continue reading in Oak volume One