En Ja



1st July, 2019

Beyond a line of curtains in a darkened room, crowds huddle around tables trying to catch a glimpse of the prototypes beneath the spotlights. On one table, magnetic currents breathe life into tiny scale-shaped fragments, while another exhibit shows experiments with thread, cloth, ribbon and embroidery. The atmosphere hints at a museum or laboratory, but rather than artefacts or specimens, the focus is on the possibilities of a single material: paper.

The Takeo Paper Show provides new perspectives not only on paper, but the way in which we engage with materials. Paper is a familiar part of daily life, but at the same time, this normality often results in it being too easily overlooked. Whenever I visit the paper show, I’m always fascinated to see how this common material can elicit such a wide range of emotions among visitors (who numbered 11,000 in Tokyo in 2018).

In 2018, the tsuchi-gami (dirt paper) created by Yoshihisa Tanaka stood out for its refreshingly simple yet enduring nature. Aside from his role as the show’s creative director, Tanaka predominantly works with paper and printed matter, whether it be designing books or creating sculptural artworks as one half of artist duo Nerhol. His work for the show ventured in a slightly different direction, resulting in a material rather than a product.

“A country’s climate, weather conditions, topography and geology, along with historical and cultural events, are strongly reflected in the soil. The natural colour and texture, combined with a contemporary vision, evolve into a new decorative paper.”

As Tanaka explains, the sheets of material, each with rich hues, marbling and texture born from the earth, can be thought of as portraits of places.

Through the medium of paper, this work has changed how I view materials as both functional elements and a platform for storytelling. Last year’s paper show highlighted new approaches to material and I feel there’s much to be learnt from the work of makers, craftsmen and designers. Regardless of whether I have a pen, camera or other tool in hand, I’m increasingly trying to allow the narrative to shape the process.


One of my favourite pastimes is collecting images of foreign landscapes, especially mountains with unknown names and whereabouts. In one such image, a row of peaks glow pale gold against a rich pre-dawn sky, while in another, a dark range looms large over a sparse landscape scattered with farmhouses and rolling fields.

All rights reserved © 2018 The White Paper by Ben Davis