The First Cut is a major exhibition featuring new and recent works by over 30 international contemporary artists who work with paper in revolutionary ways. It explores how established and emerging artists are transforming the humble scrap of paper, through cutting, folding and sculpting, into amazingly powerful creations that could be destroyed with a single tear. The title alludes to the beginning of the creative process but also suggests a violent and sinister action, which is reflected in the themes explored in the exhibition. Fragility and beauty sit side-by-side with dark fairytale imagery, sinister scenes and stark political comment. The artists featured cite a diverse range of influences on their work, from globalisation and environmentalism, sexuality and slavery to architecture, fashion, fairytales and death metal.
The exhibition features seven brand new commissions including a three metre paper cut by British artist Rob Ryan, who creates incredibly detailed poetic imagery knifed out of a single sheet of paper. Further new works, produced specially for the exhibition, are by some of the worlds most important contemporary artists working with paper today: Mia Pearlman (US) creates 3D weather systems that burst through walls and windows; James Aldridges (Sweden) sinister tableaux draws on death metal imagery; Andreas Kocks (Germany) works have the appearance of giant ink splats or brush strokes strewn across the gallery walls. The challenging political edge to the exhibition is continued with Kara Walker (US) who uses the simple medium of silhouette to create nightmarish scenes that reference slavery and question racial stereotypes.
Tom Gallants (UK) intricate patterns of seemingly innocent subjects such as birds and William Morris wallpaper simultaneously conceal and reveal layers of pornographic imagery; Justine Smith (UK) sculpts bank notes provocatively into guns and grenades; Yuken Teruya (Japan) questions consumerism and our impact on the environment through his incredibly detailed popup landscapes fashioned from luxury brand and fastfood paper bags.
The exhibition also presents a playful and immersive experience for visitors. Manchester Art Gallery
and the Gallery of Costume at Platt Hall have been taken over by installations that seem to explode from or tumble out of the walls. A paper garden appears to grow up through the gallery floor, a ten foot oak tree sprouts thousands of paper leaves and visitors can experience a walk-through forest created entirely from handmade paper. Every type of paper is used, from the handmade to the mass-produced, including books, magazines, wallpaper, maps and even money. The artworks vary dramatically in size and form, from the miniature to the fully immersive, but all transform a basic material into fantastical works of art with high levels craftsmanship and obsessive detail.
At the Gallery of Costume at Platt Hall, displays are dedicated to artists who work with paper, maps and currency to create beautifully fashioned dresses and shoes. Violese Lunns ethereal dresses float in front of 18th century portraits, Susan Stockwells incredibly detailed dresses utilise vintage maps and currency to question notions of empire and Susan Cutts uses her own handmade paper to sculpt dresses that explore the relevance of dress to identity.
Dr Maria Balshaw, Director of Manchester City Galleries said about the exhibition: This group of internationally important artists all take paper, that most familiar and daily of materials and transform it into something extraordinary and otherworldly. We hope this will offer another unique art encounter for our visitors.
The First Cut is at Manchester Art Gallery and the Gallery of Costume, Platt Hall until 27 January 2013. Entry is free.