A magical forest of greens and autumnal colours slowly swayed; in the distance a black nebula, suspended in space, dwarfed the folk wandering below.
I was at Manchester Art Gallery for The First Cut exhibition. I’d heard good things about it, but even so, I was still completely blown away by the ideas, skill and paper transformations on show. On the stairs leading up to the gallery was a patchwork quilt made from squares of maps. It was only when up close I could see that it wasn’t actually made from patterned material. Through the door the forest of giant leaves could be seen. Large branches were suspended from ceiling, each with huge leaves, covered with woven strips of paper, attached. Walking amongst them created a slight draft and they all gently swayed.
Some of the works were huge, such as the floor to ceiling length nebula cut from black paper. Others were tiny such as a tree cut from, and sitting inside, a Burger King bag. Each of the works was delicately formed with painstaking detail.
Many of the works had philosophical and political ideas behing them, such as the world map in which each country had been created from its own bank notes. The detail was so exact even the tiniest specks of islands had been symbolised by their own currency. (The UK was represented by a £5 note).
A whole section was devoted to works made from books. Pages had been gouged and the paper from them made into train tracks, flowers, people. A man, suspended from above looked as though he was swimming through the air. Closer inspection revealed him to be a stack of books with the bindings intact along his spine, but the pages carved and sculpted to create his form.
A motorbike made from paper, a gun made from US dollars, a dress made from maps: all life-size. A garden made from books of wild flowers. Hundreds of the books were arranged on the floor with flowers carefully cut from their pages and stood on end, arranged to form a beautiful symmetrical garden with, for some reason, frogs jumping around in the middle.
Scattered throughout the rest of the art gallery were other works such as a swarm of butterflies pinned to a wall around the Victorian paintings, pinned in the way Victorian naturalists would have done with their specimens. Each butterfly was made from a map and had been cut with tiny detail. In one corner, a pile of 12,000 individually and delicately feathers cut from maps.
Description, and even photographs, can’t do this exhibition justice. I bought the book, but more as an aide memoire and for the information about the artists and their works, than as a pictorial representation of the works. I didn’t take any photographs myself as my camera batteries died but here’s a link to someone who did. And his pictures are much better than any I could have taken myself anyway. Below is a video of the artists talking about their work.