paper towels

Fear of materiality


Personal Metacognition:

When I was told to choose an object that I loved, I chose brown paper towels. The ones that can be found in public washrooms. I specifically chose those paper towels because their smell and texture reminded me of what I had experienced in the past when I first moved from Guangzhou, China to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. At the time, everything was so different from what I had known the world to be. I would often find myself crying in the washroom during recess, at lunch, and during classes. As I washed and dried my face, I would feel disgusted. The combination of tap water and my own tears would soak the paper and release its pungent, dirty smell. After drying my face, I would crunch up the paper and toss it into the trash can. Now, when I think of paper towels, I am indifferent. Blank. It is when I smell, touch, and feel them that I think of fear. It’s something that doesn’t go away. The smell hides in the form of the paper waiting patiently for me to use it. And when I do, it would lunge from its physical form, grabbing and sinking its entire body into my face. I would feel repulsed, betrayed, and foolish. That I would let it hurt me again. I would quickly throw it away. But it doesn't end there. It doesn't go away. It dries up again and hides. It is a cycle that worsens.

First Attempt: Learning

I first attempted to rip up the paper towels into shreds when trying to study them. I think my idea at the time was that through the action of tearing and shredding, I would be able to portray my anger, sadness, and frustration. What I did not realize at the time was that by doing so, I would lose the materiality of my object since all of my scans would look very similar. 

I needed the scrunching, 













and every rough bit of it.


Second Attempt: Focusing

In my second attempt, I focused on the stretching, pulling, crumpling, and all aspects of how I actually used the medium. I was working with the visual evidence of “used.”



I started off wanting to create one big piece of paper. Size mattered to me. Detail was also important. Detail relative to size was very important. I wanted to incorporated the chaotic and the multidimensional medium that were brown paper towels. I wanted to show variation: Wet, dry, used, not used, crumpled, un-crumpled, damp, kinda damp, and everything else.  But I didn’t want to create any obvious ordering because I think in the case of this piece specifically, there is no order to the chaos. There is no rationale in where we touch the paper with our wet hands and there is no methodical process in how we crumple the paper around our hands. So why should there be any ordering to this piece? By implementing structure and saying I want it from wet to dry, up to down, left to right, or whatever it is just not what this is about. I want one big piece of paper that can make me and the audience touch, smell, hear, and taste the details of everything I felt and saw in brown paper towels. 


The Technical

Although I have used photoshop in the past, this is the first time I have used it to to create a work of art. An element in photoshop that I thoroughly enjoyed exploring was changing the opacity of my layers. By doing so, I can twist, turn, and mesh everything on top of each other and make one big blob of disgusting paper.


The Centrifugal

During the process of creating, I explored new ideas that intrigued me. I was especially interested in what Rosalind Krauss had to say about the centrifugal element in grids, the moving away from a centre. Her concept argues that the grid is something you can focus into and everything outside is the continuation of that image and goes on endlessly. There are several ways in which I played with and incorporated her thoughts on the grid. In some parts I used a full square image as a physical frame. In other parts, the black contour spaces from images created a grid. I also tried to layer one square on top of a bigger square and then on top of an even bigger square. Given Krauss’ concept, I wanted to create a constant change in perspective, a feeling of outward shifting. Another way I incorporated the grid was to show the outline of the original scan in some but not all of the sections to present the idea that a frame is present but not constantly in the viewer’s face. I layered the boxes, but unlike my previous method, all of the boxes in this case were of different sizes, proportions, and dimensions. I think by doing so, I furthered the centrifugal idea that there is more outside of the grid. 



Through developing this piece, I have learned more about how to use an analog material like brown paper towels and create an experience with digital technology. I think I am starting to move away from thinking linearly in a two dimensional way, but now trying to see through the image and immerse myself by imagining my surroundings multidimensionally both in a physical and metaphorical sense.