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Paper Tigers

10 September 2013

The Saatchi Gallery’s current exhibition ‘Paper’ invites visitors to consider paper as a medium, and its shrinking relevance within an increasingly digitised world. At the forefront of the contemporary art scene, the Saatchi Gallery has a reputation for flirting with controversy, and unsurprisingly ‘Paper’ showcases artists unafraid to challenge the way that we interact with, envision and utilise paper within our everyday lives.

Inside the gallery the bright colours and differing scales of the artwork create a confusing, and at times contradictory mix, with the gallery’s more understated works easily overlooked in favour of their bigger, brasher neighbours. Despite this it is the quiet pieces tucked into the corners that prove the most engaging, offering up a gentle critique on paper’s role within today’s commercial landscape.

Miller Lagos’ Fragmentos del Tiempo engages with paper as a subject, manipulating newspapers back into a semblance of their original tree-branch forms. This simple but clever presentation draws on issues of deforestation, while also engaging with the sheer volume of information that drives our modern day consumption of paper. Meanwhile, Jodie Carey also manipulates the form of newspapers; her flower sculptures bring a sense of frailty and transience to a world that relies so heavily on the constant movement of data.

Featuring 44 artists, ‘Paper’ is a show that ranges from the haunting and slightly macabre drawings of Eric Manigaud’s Portrait Clinique series to the playful Planos-pipas n-17 installation by Marcelo Jacome. Both artists share a preoccupation with the physical presence of paper as a medium. Manigaud seeks to reclaim a physical space for photography, reproducing images at a large scale in pencil and graphite on paper; while Jacome’s creation physically takes over the space, swooping across the room in a canopy of colour and movement that seems to defy physical classification.

However the life and colour that Jacome’s work brings to ‘Paper’ can only go so far in compensating for an exhibition that is overall, something of a disappointment. Many of the works although undoubtedly using paper as a canvas, fail to engage with the subject matter on a deeper level, leaving the challenge to ‘our received ideas and expectations about paper as a material’ that the show promised, conspicuous by its absence.

Body Swallow World by Aurel Schmidt, although inspiring as a work in its own right, proves an uninspired choice for inclusion in an exhibition all about paper. The writhing maggot infested forest depicted in Schmidt’s work seems to suggest that sometimes a glancing look is more forgiving than an up close examination; this is definitely true of ‘Paper’ which as an exhibition falls short of expectations.

‘Paper’ at The Saatchi Gallery London is on until 2 November 2013.