Thursday, February 2, 2012

"Tell me a Story" at the Center for Book & Paper Arts

In 2010, artist Rose Camastro-Pritchett spent a semester in China, introducing art students at a college in JiuJiang to a very unfamiliar idea: conceptual art.

Improvising materials and equipment, she set up a papermaking studio on the verandah of her apartment, and was soon showing her students how to make paper pulp, and then turn that into artist’s books and other paper-based art. The students were all competent in painting, but the idea of, well, starting with just an idea, or a memory, and then letting that dictate the form was something entirely alien to them.

In an exhibition that just closed at the Center for Book and Paper Arts in Chicago, Camastro-Pritchett exhibited some of the student work that she was able to bring back to the United States when the residency was over. Called “Tell Me a Story,” the show displayed a nice variety of pieces: dresses made from paper, the hems torn into strips on which were written a student’s personal memories:

Accordion books cut into the shape of the Chinese dragons, with bright colours to match:

Books with contrasting materials such as razor blades sewn in to the pages:

And my favourite, a piece called “Growth” that consisted of molds taken from rice bowls, filled with rice, and nestled in the rice an eggshell containing a little soil and a garlic plant. Apparently the region to which JiuJiang belongs is renowned for its garlic, which is grown and then sold on the streets in gigantic mountains of garlic (Rose Camastro-Pritchett is pictured standing next to "Growth"):

I liked that piece best because it seemed to contain a more extended thought process than the others, and had a definite originality to it. But that’s not to disparage the other work on display: just because the forms were familiar doesn’t mean that they were uninteresting. The fact that the work came from China, and an intercultural exchange between an American artist and the soon-to-be-dominant culture of the new century, accounts for some of the fascination, of course. It was a well-mounted exhibition, and it extended the Center for Book and Paper Arts’ track record of producing good, original shows. 

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