The Next Best Paper Crane?


Somehow, Danish artist Peter Callesen’s use of paper seems more meaningful than established forms like Japanese origami…

When a Facebook friend who is also a professional photographer (and whose work you actually like) publicly posts a recommended art link, you’re inclined to take a look. Especially if the link is accompanied by an image that sparks curiosity: A grinning white skeleton raising itself out of a similarly white 2-D bed…of A4 paper? And all with an ethereal quality interpretable even in thumbnail size.

With one click, you drop through a cyberspace rabbit hole into the world of Peter Callesen; a realm of art so intricately fragile it could literally all go up in flames with the ignition of a single match. The artist hails from Denmark, and creates this line of work primarily from cutting and pasting paper. The skeleton is a 2006 piece, titled Halfway Through, created using only acid-free A4 paper, pencil, and glue. It is listed in the category of ‘A4 Papercut’ on his website which includes a startling paper Jesus, pure and holy as the parchment it was resurrected from, and a three-dimensional Tower of Babel appearing no more sturdy than a set of stacked playing cards. All invoke wonderment.

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Paper art in the past has often been tied most closely to eastern cultures. Japanning is a form that encapsulates the centuries-old art of Asian lacquer work, while paper lantern construction is still culturally embraced by China and Japan. And of course there’s the widely known origami that has spread in popularity from Japan throughout the world. When we hear of ‘paper art’ this is often what is conjured up in our minds. Yet seeing what less color, considerably more meticulous folding and the addition of a pair of scissors can do in Callesen’s hands, our references of art in paper may be forever subverted.

Of his choice of the less-exotic A4 paper as a primary medium, Callesen explains, ‘It is probably the most common and consumed media used for carrying information today. This is why we rarely notice the actual materiality of the A4 paper. By taking away all the information and starting from scratch using the blank white A4 paper sheet for my creations, I feel I have found a material that we are all able to relate to.’ He goes on to describe his creations as, ‘paper sculptures (with) a frailty that underlines the tragic and romantic theme of my works.’

Danish art critic Camilla Jalving seems impressed. In a review of his work she too ponders Callesen’s unusual medium: ‘Instead of drawing, Callesen cuts, folds and suddenly a world appears. 2D becomes 3D, which is quite a heroic gesture in and by itself…this is an important point to bear in mind, if the gesture is heroic, the outcome is equally fragile.’

Jalving continues by asserting, ‘Callesen’s sculptures… (evoke) an ‘aesthetic of possible failure’, as if they are always on the verge of collapsing, of falling apart or being flattened by an awkward hand. In this way Callesen reformulates sculptural practice.’ She concludes by insinuating heavy admiration: ‘… (Callesen) offers the viewer not only objects to consider, but dreams to pursue.’

Though a portfolio of his work is available for viewing both on his personal website and that of the gallery that represents him (Helene Nyborg Contemporary), Callesen’s current and future exhibitions are based in Denmark and will travel only as far as Sweden and Norway. It’s a shame, as it may have some origami enthusiasts on this side of the world running to the copy machine.

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