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Paper sculpture is not new; from delicate cut-out work to more rough-hewn papier mache designs, it’s something you’ve probably even had a go at yourself – even if that’s only to make a few paper chains at Christmas, or in the most basic terms, to make a paper aeroplane to throw across a room.

Paper cutting has a long history; as each culture across the world gained the skill of making paper, the natural next step was to make art with it, with each advanced civilisation developing different techniques and styles. Paper by its nature is quite fragile, but the earliest surviving piece of paper art is a cut out circle dating from 6th century China. As trade routes opened and thrived, paper cutting and sculpture travelled with the traders, reaching West Asia, and into Europe. By the 15th century in Turkey, there was even a paper crafters’ Guild, and a hundred or so years later, an observer notes that a guild member’s garden was decorated with paper flowers for a ceremony in honour of the ruler. In Europe, the art of silhouette cutting – usually portraits out of black paper – became very popular, and eventually led to the sub-genre of stencilling.

Paper craft isn’t just limited to cutting out two-dimensional shapes – it can encompass folding, quilling, and being glued or stitched into layered designs to form complex sculptures. The beauty of paper is that it’s a relatively inexpensive craft material, so open to almost everyone in terms of being able to explore creativity. Paper is readily-accessible, and even environmentally-friendly, as you can recycle any results that aren’t perfect. Paper folding as an art-form is as old as paper itself, with intricately folded Egyptian maps on papyrus implying that it wasn’t just restricted to Japan, and the development of origami.

Modern day machine cutting techniques make the possibilities for paper sculpture almost endless, limited only by the imagination of the artist. Born in Miami in 1983, contemporary artist Jen Stark is well known for her work in creating innovative and breath-taking paper sculptures. Drawing inspiration from the beauty of nature’s microscopic patterns, including cross-sections of sliced-through anatomy, her designs are based on replication – and not just replication; the kind of repeats that continue to infinity. Her sculptures are both appealing and almost inexplicable to the naked eye, drawing us in with an abundance of vibrancy and texture rarely found outside of nature, and even more unusual in sculpture.

Art Basel is an annual event celebrating contemporary art, and providing a platform for art galleries in Miami to display contemporary and innovative works. The paper sculptures on display by Stark were extraordinary in their depth and their use of colour, simultaneously reminiscent of geological rock formation and kaleidoscope patterns.

Just when you thought paper was for printing!

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