The aim of writing about the processes I have developed —based on my work and experience from 1985 to 1998— using cellulose fibre, or its abundant uses for artistic purposes, was motivated, at least in part, by the practical inexistence of publications on this subject in the publishing world. Also, the unique nature of any artistic activity made me think that I could perhaps share this with some other artist, or possibly with a reader interested in these processes and their results.
From the beginning of my activity in the field of art, I have paid careful attention to experimenting with the materials used. This dedication, and the technical knowledge acquired, have, I believe, been an important aid in my own use of cellulose fibre; a technique that is considerably different from previously existing techniques.
It is evident that the difficulty of this artistic practice demands an unwavering willingness and dedication over an extended period of time, especially if one wishes to have available a wide language with which to approach form and content. It is an enriching experience to prepare art works using cellulose fibre filtrates and textures, with their great variety and beauty, which, at the same time, provide new expressive elements. These qualities are, however, a danger to bear in mind, since they can easily induce a certain "virtuosity". The excessive protagonism of cellulose fibres and textures can limit their other expressive possibilities.
WORKS IN CELLULOSE FIBRE
Working with wet material
: The basic way of working is to make the work on a rigid surface covered with a non-absorbent plastic. This is necessary in order to be able to manipulate the cellulose fibre. The diverse forms obtained in this way are applied over the work with an absolute minimum of water. The work should not be allowed to dry out during the days that it is being worked on (it is necessary to cover it with a plastic sheet, preferably with a gauze or textile mesh in between to prevent adherence). The draining of excess water during the work presents many problems.
A more elaborate and logical approach is to make the work over a metal, or cloth, mesh, which allows the excess water to easily drain off. The mesh should always be rigid enough to enable it to be held in the air, or else stretched over a frame. Another possibility is to place an absorbent material (a thin layer of plastic sponge or blotting paper) between the mesh and the flat impermeable surface. Contrary to what one might think, the free flow of water beneath the mesh is slower and can present more problems in this second possibility. Using both methods it is essential to keep the work wet until it is finished. To my way of thinking, allowing the work to completely, or partially, dry out, breaks its continuity. Wetting the work again would seem to be the solution, however, once they are dry, filtrates of cellulose fibre do not become spongy again or recover their initial state. The loss of the physical element represented by the water, is the loss of the guiding hand of the work and I believe that it destroys the spirit of the work.
Thanks to the surface tension of the water, when working with wet material, cellulose fibre can stick to the weft or to the wires of the tools or meshes when applying the material to the work. Shooting cellulose fibre onto the work using a pressurised jet or pistol is especially useful in work suspended under water.
: In this same phase, I have produced three-dimensional works using cellulose fibre. The inherent physical characteristics of cellulose fibre, (it is both subtle and light) make it very suitable for producing mobile works. Those made with cellulose fibre move with the air that is present in a closed room. It has been necessary to use new mediums, in particular for incorporating ribs and producing new forms. In mobiles produced later, I have even incorporated other processes than those previously experimented with.
Works suspended in water
: I have also made works completely submerged under 15 to 20 mm of water. I believe this method attains the maximum perfection in the work, since the most appropriate element to provide a vehicle for cellulose fibre is water. The fluidity during preparation and the results are optimal. There is also no problem draining the water. Working underwater permits the use of any type of instrument or sieve and since there is no surface tension excess cellulose fibre can be easily removed.
: They have a certain thickness of cellulose fibre and can therefore be produced using either the wet technique or the suspension in water technique. Final support can be provided by threads or nothing more than needles or blobs of glue over a solid background. On the other hand, the greater opacity of these works justifies not placing a glass pane behind, as I normally do with those that are more translucent.
In Wash drawing made on sheets of hand-made paper from the old Mora Paper Mill in Capellades, I have shown a clear desire to approach —in spite of the substantial differences between the two techniques— the works produced using pigmented cellulose fibre, using processes that expose the cellulose fibre that is present in both techniques.
I normally moisten the sheets with abundant quantities of distilled water and then fold them in rectangles or in an irregular manner. Using a large wooden mallet, it is necessary to pick away at the folded sheets, which will accentuate the pleats and deform the paper.
The edges of these folded sheets can be worn away with abrasive scourers. Stiff and tightly packed metal brushes are also useful. Similarly, an ordinary knife, or a hacksaw blade will do the job. It is even possible to cut or perforate the creased cellulose fibre layer.
It is necessary to work on the sheets while they are still moist —I consider this essential. If they are not to be worked on immediately, it is a good idea to wrap them in plastic film in order for them to maintain their initial humidity. Now they can be eroded more: first they must be placed on a hard surface (a methacrylate or metal surface is useful) and scored using a hard metal brush inclining the sharp points to one side. These brushes must be used with care, using only one side and inclining them to avoid causing undesired damage. In this process, it is also possible to drag groups of fibres that are dispersed on the surface, or pull up fragments or bend parts of the sheet.
Extracts from the chapter on:
Cellulose Fiber Techniques extracted from the book
Alibau, works, and cellulose fiber techniques
Arola Publishers. 2000