Charlotte Tsang: Why do you choose to work with paper as your primary medium?
Amanda Hamilton: Though I've really enjoyed making this work, I don't think of paper as my "primary" medium. I tend to be motivated by ideas and in 2009 I was preparing to make a body of work about historical paradise gardens and the meanings of flowers and plants. I wanted to create plants that would exist under bell jars as though in a winter garden, I also liked the vague reference to a collection, which made me think of historical wonder cabinets. I tried many different materials to make plants and herbs but in the end wire, glue, and cut paper worked best. In my current body of work I've returned to painting and video because they better suits the ideas.
CT: How long have you been practising as a paper artist?
AH: Since 2009. I suppose I used paper to create dioramas before that but 2009 was the first time I made a primary object out of paper. (With the dioramas or scale models made from paper they were always meant to be re-presented in photographs or videos but never seen directly by the viewer.)
CT: What first attracted you to working with paper as an illustrative material in its own right (by ‘in its own right’ I mean rather than solely a medium on which to illustrate)?
AH: For the work in the exhibition “Cutting Edge” paper simply best articulated the ideas. I have always made drawings and in this work I was "drawing" with an x-acto and then translating the pieces into dimensional sculpture.
CT: Please identify any artists that have influenced your approach.
AH: I enjoy the work of Yoshihiro Suda and Roxy Paine. The level of detail is lovely. The humility of Suda’s work and the delicacy are very attractive to me.
CT: Please identify any non-illustration/art/design-based experiences that have affected your work.
AH: I started this work because of architecture. I have always been interested in art history and when I was invited to show at a site that had a very particular reference to paradise gardens I started to research their history more. I also enjoy gardening myself and the act of gardening is a similarly time intensive commitment.
CT: To what extent do you use technology in your work?
AH: I research both in hardcopy books and on the internet for my source images of plants. I had a hard time finding a good image of rue and so eventually bought a small plant from which to work. Once I find a source image I draw the plants shapes onto the paper and then start cutting. I am aware I could be using laser-cutting technology and it would save me gobs of time but it wouldn’t be right for the work.
CT: Paper artists often choose to spend many hours painstakingly creating one individual piece by hand, rather than resorting to digital techniques/processes – a much faster way of producing work. Why do you think this is?
AH: I’m aware I could use technology, but in this particular body of work one of the conceptual aspects is meditation, the message being conveyed through floriography or a history of plants that has symbolic meaning attached. It seems that old ways of thinking or knowing (like floriography) are better suited to the intensive process of handwork. If I had cut it through a different process my hand would be removed and the hours it takes to make them would not be felt as such by the viewer. I still do believe in such a thing as aura in an artwork… or maybe density is a better word.
CT: To what extent do you regard your direct engagement with the materials as showing a trace of your personality? Please explain in detail.
AH: I don’t think much of my “self” when making these works. Rather, I’m not interested in my personality coming through the work so much as my submitting myself to complete the task of the work. I think it provides a model of how one can be in the world. I think for others who see the work it certainly feels that labor has gone into the work. Someone who knows me may say it’s detail oriented like I am but I think it’s more general- many of us are detail oriented.
CT: How important do you think this aspect is to the viewer/recipient of your works?
AH: I think it’s important for the viewer to sense the investment of time, and somehow feel the density that adds to the work.
CT: To what extent is your approach governed by rationality or rational processes? To what extent is your approach governed by an emotional impulse?
AH: Because the plants all have some historic or mythic meaning I have chosen the plants based on my own emotional impulses: grief, strength, lust, relief, submission, etc. In the making of the works it’s refreshingly like doing a known task- I struggle through how the materials will work for each particular piece and then just spend the required hours carrying the plan out. Some of the pieces have taken as little as 14 hours but the more intricate ones take upwards of 60.
CT: To what extent do you regard what you do as offering something new? For example, is your application of techniques new?
AH: I don’t think what I do is new. Many people throughout art production have made models of the natural world. In the 18th century Mary Delany hand-cut thousands of botanical collages. In the 19th century Leopold Blaschka and his son, Rudolph recreated over 800 species in glass! It seems humans have always been preoccupied with the intricacies of nature.
CT: To what extent is craftsmanship an important aspect of your work? Please explain why or why not.
AH: I think that craftsmanship is quite important in the sense that if I’m too sloppy then the viewer will be distracted. However, one of the reasons I chose paper and wire (and glue) was that it is obvious how and what the object is made from. I’m not interested in fooling the eye, so to speak. If there is magic in the work it is because the whole is greater than the simple materials.
CT: How important do you think this aspect of craftsmanship is to the viewer/recipient of your works?
AH: I think the viewer is probably compelled to look a little longer at any work that impresses their sense of technique or labor.
CT: Do you think that it would be possible to produce the same effect using digital techniques? Please explain why or why not.
AH: Absolutely not. These works could be easily produced in something like multiples or even made as “do-it-yourself” kits but that would miss the point. I think it counts fro something that I’m batty enough to sit and redraw and cut the same shape hundreds of times. It’s about the space of time passing and not wholly about the end product.
CT: Who is your work aimed at primarily?
AH: When I was a younger artist I often felt anxiety worrying about who my “audience” was and how I might “connect” with them. I have ended much more comfortably at a sense that, since I am human with all my excitements and failures and desires and needs and curiosities, the best attitude to have as an artist is to assume there are probably others with similar feelings and wants as myself. I think there are enough people who want to see good work that my only task is to worry about making better work!
CT: To what extent do you think you have reached your target audience?
AH: I’m grateful for the interest people have taken in the work. I am always a bit surprised, delighted and heartened by the support and interest of strangers who find the work. It’s nice that you contacted me from a different country!
CT: Why do you think that designing with paper has become a trend in this digital age?
AH: Oh- design would be a whole different issue. I think many techniques that are available for designers lead to lovely packaging, small run art objects, light fixtures, etc. I like the versatility that new techniques and production methods offer the design community!
CT: What do you think is so appealing about paper – for the creator and for the viewer?
AH: Paper is so common. All forms of paper are vulnerable and fragile. It can hold stories, drawings, notes, be a paper airplane or be decoration… it’s appealing because it’s a physical material full of possibility. It’s available to nearly everyone. It may be expensive and take a large dedicated space to make paintings but paper you can play with at your kitchen table.
By Charlotte Tsang
University of Huddesfield, School of Art, Design and Architecture
West Yorkshire, UK