On Saturday October 11th, Syracuse’s newest gallery, ArtRage, celebrated its grand opening with the presentation of Combat Paper, a collection of visual works and poetry made from the remains of war veterans’ uniforms. This exhibition is an extension of the Combat Paper Project, co-founded by Drew Cameron (veteran) and Drew Matott (civilian) at Green Door Studio in Burlington, VT.
The uniforms of the artists—former Army soldiers and Marines from the Iraq War, as well as uniforms of war veterans from World War II and Vietnam—are ripped, cut into pieces, and turned into pulp, which is then used to make the paper on which the art is created.
While this exhibition sounds tailor-made for controversy and derision, it isn’t meant to be. According to Combat Paper’s written purpose, which meets visitors immediately upon entering the gallery, the project is about “dignity and reclamation…we are able to use the transformative process of papermaking to challenge the traditional narratives around warfare, patriotism, military service, and heroism.”
None of the works in the exhibition are framed—the borders of the paper are left tattered and irregular, as if to give the emotional nature of the visuals freedom to be ugly and uninhibited in its truth. The aesthetics of the pieces are surprisingly diverse, encompassing abstract expressionism, traditional book and papermaking, and a mixed media form called “pulp printing.”
This is a new technique developed by Matott, in which digital photographs are manipulated by reducing the DPI (dots per inch) of the photograph, producing a silkscreen of the image, and then spraying pulp over the silkscreen, which is applied to the wet paper. In “It starts within,” the viewer sees a man shedding the visual trappings of his soldiering life, sequentially in a series of six “pulp-printed” images. In this way the artist/veteran communicates the piece-by-piece process of finding his post-war voice.
Despite vehement anti-war sentiment throughout, the exhibition’s strength is its ability to transcend the political diatribes of the Iraq War, stressing the need for honest communication between veterans and U.S. citizens about war’s atrocities. The artwork is both visually and thematically cohesive, indicative of a specific era in American history while not being stuck in it interminably.
The true value of Combat Paper is that it is not merely a one-off art show, but an ongoing project, as the artists tour the country giving papermaking workshops, poetry readings, and lectures to other war veterans. In that way, paper becomes the renewable resource used to rejuvenate lives in the face of destruction.
ArtRage gallery, located at 505 Hawley Ave., will show Combat Paper through November 1st.
~ Daniel J. Kushner