Paper Fortress: Paper as Fiber at Pterodactyl

jenna efrein - gibson geisha

Jenna Efrein - Gibson Geisha

There is still plenty of quilting, weaving, knitting, and dyeing going on around Philly lately as Fiber Philadelphia continues through April with a slew of new exhibitions opening around town.  Pterodactyl’s answer to all the textile love is Paper Fortress, an exhibition showcasing the diversity of paper as a fiber art form.  Curator Nicole Donnelly selected a wide range of work in two and three dimensions that contrast the natural, organic properties inherent in the medium with a more manufactured and industrial point of view.  The opening reception for Paper Fortress is Saturday, March 31 (TOMORROW evening!) and features food and drink, live music (!!!) and paper-based creations by ten Philadelphia artists.

Before even walking through the entry of the gallery’s converted warehouse space, Paper Fortress makes a big opening statement with Lisa Murch’s amorphous sculptures that are visible from the hall.  Her works appear mysteriously and primitively alive, like they were dug up from the bottom of the ocean in an episode of Planet Earth.  Lisa created “Hive” by stitching together individual egg carton cups to create an undulating catacomb one could nearly get lost in, and the finished piece speaks to the part of me who collects stacks of egg cartons on top of the fridge even though I have nothing to use them for.

lisa murch - hive, untitled at pterodactyl
Lisa Murch – (Untitled) / Hive


Karen Hardy shows several pieces in Paper Fortress that also explore the natural world.  She uses plant fibers including flax and abaca (a species of banana leaf) in her paper-making and often represents abstract, organic forms and textures.  Her piece Petrichor” taught me the best word I’ve learned all week and has a similar cellular quality to Lisa’s sculptures.  While I can see and smell the raindrops on soil as evoked by the title, I can also see microscopic colonies of bacteria growing on Petri dishes.


karen hardy - petrichor at pterodactyl
Karen Hardy – Petrichor


erin tohill robin - neuron net at pterodactyl

Erin Tohill Robin - Neuron Net

Erin Tohill Robin and Ellen Owens created two very different installations that tackle the human element.  Erin’s “Neuron Net” is comprised of molded paper cups held in place by the tension of a woven string net.  The piece continues the cellular motif in its reference of neurons, with some cups containing a nucleus of thought and others waiting for ideas and connections to fill them up.  Ellen’s “Emerge” suspends a human form with red and blue stringy veins supporting its rice paper limbs and a torso.  As the thin flesh is torn away and disintegrates, the tangles of string beneath the surface are revealed.  Both installations are gravity-defying in a way that calls upon the fragile life force that sustains us and the consciousness that makes us human.


ellen owens - emerge at pterodactyl

Ellen Owens - Emerge


On the other side of the room, Bonnie Kaye Whitfield steers the discussion towards industry with her comment on passing time as a worker bee.  She recreated her timesheets from a stint working three concurrent jobs by printing on handmade paper and sewing the pieces together in long accordions that cascade down the wall.  As a former worker bee myself, it was impossible for me to suppress my indoctrinated obsession with timeliness – I couldn’t help but notice the days she clocked in late!


bonnie kaye whitfield - in and out (timesheets) at pterodactyl

Bonnie Kaye Whitfield - In and Out (Timesheets)


mary tasillo and michelle wilson (book bombs) - native species and horizontalidad

Mary Tasillo & Michelle Wilson (Book Bombs) - Native Species / Horizontalidad

“Native Species” by Book Bombs, the collaborating duo of Mary Tasillo and Michelle Wilson, and “Celestial Mechanics” by Carol Cole both illustrate the transformative potential of paper.  Book Bombs turned recycled denim into paper cutouts of a park bench and endangered plant species native to the region, effectively contrasting the natural with the manufactured.  Carol Cole pursued a much different treatment of paper by rendering it to pulp and using it to unify the surface of found artifacts.  The texture and patina she creates is reminiscent of erosion and wear, or is it disuse and gunk buildup instead? Carol then assembled rusty tools, washers, and widgets to imagine a mechanized night sky, a manufactured landscape built by human relics.

Alexis Granwell also takes a cue from imagined landscapes in her piece, but her view is even more abstracted – the place she imagines is much less ordered than Carol’s vision.  “Eternal City (From the Inside Out)” resembles historical maps, diagrams, and blueprints with its sprawling lines and the suggestion of yellowed tape holding the homemade paper together where the creases might fall.  However, it is unclear whether she maps the network of streetlights that line rural roads, the topographic contours of geological formations, or some other dichotomy between the things we build and their naturally formed counterparts.

carol cole - celestial mechanics at pterodactly for fiber philadelphia

Carol Cole - Celestial Mechanics

alexis granwell - eternal city (from the inside out)

Alexis Granwell - Eternal City (From the Inside Out)


Paper Fortress brings a unique perspective to Fiber Philadelphia by revealing a treatment of fibers that can be structural,  protective, soft, delicate, malleable, permeable, and completely transformative.  In a world that is going increasingly “paperless”, Paper Fortress offers a reminder that the medium will continue to serve us as we reflect upon the natural world around us and continue to build our own visions amongst it.

Paper Fortress: Paper as Fiber shows through April 22, 2012 at Pterodactyl.  Opening reception is March 31, 2012 from 6-9PM.   3237 Amber St., Fifth Floor North / 215.501.7158

To make a financial contribution towards the cost of putting together this exhibition (and receive some handmade paper and limited edition prints in return!), check out Paper Fortress on Kickstarter.


Written and photographed by Carina Giamerese: Contributing Writer, Side Arts.


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