Palace of the Republic presents new paper sculptures and a range of plastic assemblages made over the past decade by the Melbourne artist Louise Paramor. Commissioned by the National Gallery of Victoria, Paramor’s new works employ the ‘honeycomb’ paper technique first adopted in her Lustgarten, 1999, series. During a one-year residency at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin, Paramor refined this method through experimentation to produce freestanding and hanging paper objects that appeared to magically transform flat shapes into three-dimensional forms. Paramor’s latest works are inspired by the plastic forms and colours of her recent Boomtown, 2016, series. Palace of the Republic, 2017, conveys Paramor’s exuberant sense of play and experimentation with colour, volume and scale. The title of this exhibition and the artist’s new series refers to the now-demolished seat of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), a socialist landmark, situated opposite the original Lustgarten, or ‘pleasure garden’, site on Museum Island in Berlin.
Jane Devery: The title of your new series Palace of the Republic, which is also the title of this exhibition, translates in German to the Palast der Republik the name of the former seat of the GDR in Berlin. You spent time living in Berlin when you first made your paper works which are collectively titled Lustgarten.This word also has a set of meanings that are specific to Berlin. Can you talk about how you see these titles relating to your works past and present?
Louise Paramor: My first series of honeycomb paper works made in 1999−2000 resemble an ornate garden setting. The objects themselves are not dissimilar in appearance to topiary. I chose the title Lustgarten, after I noticed the name on a signpost near the original Lustgarten site in Berlin. The word has a nice poetry to it, and a sense of the garden’s Baroque origin. It seemed appropriate considering the opulence of the paper structures.
The new paper sculptures are translations of recently made small plastic assemblages and are therefore more formal in design. They feature bright colours and a nostalgia for a more recent history. The title Palace of the Republic refers to the 1970s socialist Palast der Republik linking the name of the new honeycomb paper series to that of the old. This series reflects a utilitarianism, inherent in the parts of the original plastic objects, and are suggestive of the dichotomy between grandeur and pragmatism.
JD: Making the new sculptures has meant you have returned to a technique you haven’t used for many years: a paper ‘honeycomb’ system that you first experimented with in the late 1990s. Could you describe this technique and how you came to develop it originally? What was the starting point for you?
LP: In the late 1990s I became fascinated by various types of collapsible forms: articles that could magically transform from a flat shape into a three-dimensional object. Before employing the honeycomb paper technique, I had experimented with different collapsible forms, mostly enlarging the scale of small foil decorations, which exhibited en masse, resulted in a surreal environment. Some of these structures were site-specific, such as the large aluminium hanging work Chandelier, which was made for the 1997 exhibition World at End, in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne. Chandelier was subsequently shown in Primavera (1998) at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney.
With the honeycomb paper I found greater control, enabling me to design my own forms, not just copy or ‘blow-up’ existing decorative objects. It is made using a system of alternating lines of glue between many leaves of paper that are cut into a shape and then pulled 360 degrees around a central axis to form a voluminous object. There was a lot of trial and error in figuring out how to make it and then a leap of faith in how far it could be pushed. As I went, each piece taught me a lesson in what not to do. The hardest part is manually producing it. Firstly, I make a ‘gluing rack’ and a ‘registration mat’, enabling me to draw the lines of glue, relatively efficiently and accurately, working on the floor. The process of gluing the lines requires full rolls of paper and of reasonable width. After many layers the next step is to cut the desired shape, sandwiching the wad of honeycomb between two sheets of MDF wood and using a jigsaw. The process is very physically demanding and the repetition of gluing the lines requires a great deal of focus.
JD: The new series marries together techniques and materials from this earlier phase of your career with forms that are derived from your more recent Boomtown and Supermodel, 2014, series of plastic assemblages. Did you meet any challenges in this process that were unexpected?
LP: In the early phase of designing the new works for Palace of the Republic, the obvious approach was to select pieces from my Boomtown and Supermodel series, because of the extensive set of shapes, arrangements and colours to play with. Once I had decided upon a selection, I determined the scale of each piece in relation to the others and to the dimensions of the gallery space − a largely intuitive process. There are limitations of what can be done with honeycomb paper; its very nature relies upon symmetry. My biggest challenge was to attempt asymmetrical forms to offset this centrality, calling for some very lateral thinking and a degree of guesswork. The scale was another challenge, the monumental height of the new works meant that steel base-plates and armatures were required. Given the new design challenges, there were far more problems to solve along the way than I had envisaged − all of which are too convoluted to describe. Honeycomb paper is a strange beast which behaves in unexpected ways and continues to baffle me.
JD: The second half of the exhibition surveys works you have made over the past decade. All of these sculptures are united in formal terms by their intensely vivid colours and use of plastic. Plastic is a material that is very much of our time – it is the material of industrial mass-produced products that we use every day. When and why did you start working with found plastic objects?
LP: The first plastic assemblages were the Jam Session series made in 2006−07. At the time I had a studio in Footscray and regularly frequented the nearby Vietnamese emporiums. I was inspired by the colour, volume and form of the plastic objects in these shops, which led me to gather interesting and colourful plastic flotsam from anywhere and everywhere. In the studio, I ‘jammed’ these mostly domestic objects together to create formal sculptures. Writer and academic Justin Clemens most succinctly described them: ‘Because the objects Paramor collects are designed for the human body, above all for hands and arses, the Jam Sessions acquire anthropomorphic qualities, even characters of their own, at once innocent and faintly obscene.’
The first twenty Jam Sessions were shown with two-dimensional works in my solo exhibition A Bunch of Flowers (Nellie Castan Gallery, South Yarra and Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, Perth, 2006). After this exhibition I was approached by artist/curator Jane O’Neill with the idea to place a larger series of Jam Sessions in a sports environment. In 2007, a four-day event called Show Court 3 took place, where seventy-eight Jam Sessions were placed on an outdoor tennis court at The Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne.
In the ensuing years I started to notice larger industrial plastic objects and my gathering went further afield. The durability of industrial plastics meant I was able to place my work in outdoor environments for extended periods. I made several large-scale assemblages including Industrial Jam Session, 2007, Monumental Jam Session, 2008, Tritonic Jam Session, 2008, and Top Shelf, 2010.1 Paramor’s first commission Heavy Metal Jam Session, 2009, for COSTCO in Docklands, Melbourne. A suite of six large-scale painted aluminium and steel sculptures, drawn from the original Jam Session series.
JD: Many of your sculptures have architectural associations – Boomtown for example and Stupa City, 2011, have evocative individual titles such as Astrobingo Planetarium, Dee Empressa Casino and Tantra Night Club. Could you talk about the relationship your works have to the built environment?
LP: The starting point for the Stupa City series was an invitation to participate in the group exhibition Monumental Effect (2010) as part of Death Be Kind, a project run by artists Elvis Richardson and Claire Lambe. The limitation of space caused me to think on a smaller scale and I created the architectural model Hotel Panorama.2Hotel Panorama became the maquette for the permanent public sculpture Panorama Station, 2012, for Peninsula Link Freeway, Victoria. Soon after this, I was in India and visited Bodhgaya, the centre of Indian Buddhism. On return I created more plastic ‘buildings’, which subtly echoed the tower forms common in Buddhist architecture, in particular the spiritual stupa monument. The ten plastic models that make-up the series feature unorthodox architectural propositions depicting a variety of institutions such as a bank, theatre, nightclub, casino, planetarium. Increasingly, as a number of my plastic assemblages have now been translated into permanent large-scale public sculptures, I see my assemblages as potential maquettes for a bigger project, at a later date. Boomtown is made up of sixty-four such potential maquettes. In its entirety, the series included eight large collages, constructed from gloss enamel painted paper, depicting an apartment building onto which an enlargement of a small sculpture is transposed, suggesting streets full of public art.
JD: Other works take on anthropomorphic qualities. I am thinking here of the Supermodel sculptures. They are charming small-scale works with individual names like Cheryl, Maxine, Valerie, Wanda, Jerry, Bryan, Eric, Hank. It seems that humour and playfulness are important ingredients in your work. How do you see these works within the context of your overall body of works?
LP: In 2013, artist/curator Julie Collins, then director of the Lorne Sculpture Triennial, encouraged me to put a piece into the small-scale category of the event. I created the first Supermodel3 This sculpture now exists as a four metre permanent version in the town of Lorne, Victoria., which inspired the subsequent work in this series, deliberately made as figurative sculpture. The Supermodel series comprises thirty Supermodels and fifteen glass paintings depicting pairings of the Supermodels titled accordingly, for instance − Victoria and Eric, Uma and Aaron, Maxine and Bryan. Presentation is an important consideration when showing works because it provides a context that may function as a story. Supermodel gave me licence to let my characters ‘strut the catwalk’ on runway-like platforms.4 The commission Feeling Machines, 2016, for Bowden Main Park, Adelaide, a suite of three large painted aluminium and steel sculptures was drawn from the Supermodel series.
JD: In recent years you have made a number of public art commissions. The working maquette for your work Panorama Station, on the Peninsula Link freeway outside Melbourne, is included in this exhibition. It is evident that you enjoy working across various scales from the diminutive Boomtown series to the gigantic Tritonic Jam Session, 2008, sculpture and the monumental Palace of the Republic. How do you approach the shift in scale?
LP: Scaling up has been a part of my practice in both two-dimensional and three-dimensional works, at least since 1997, with the aforementioned enlarged decorations and has, ironically, allowed me to see the potential of very small things and to note the subtle differences in sensibility that tiny objects bring when transposed. In fact, the largest of the new paper works is a translation of a very small (8 cm high) assemblage, comprised of two fishing lures and a vacuum cleaner part. It is not included in the NGV show and is likely to be the starting point for the next series of assemblages, which will be even smaller than the Boomtown series.
JD: And finally, a question about your working process. Do you generate ideas before you make your works and if so, does much planning go into executing them?
LP: I need to gather a lot of material in order to make my assemblages, this is a crucial part of the process. When in the midst of making a series, my radar is on for plastic detritus applicable to the scale I am working on at that time. The process then is a bit like trying to put a jigsaw together, seeing what fits, what feels right. I have to be quite systematic: once I have decided that an assembly is working, I put it to the side so the parts cannot be merged into another piece. If I am not strict with this rule, nothing would ever get resolved. I refined this technique when making the large body of Jam Sessions for the Show Court 3 projects, actually packing each ‘approved’ assemblage away out of sight.
Paramor’s first commission Heavy Metal Jam Session, 2009, for COSTCO in Docklands, Melbourne. A suite of six large-scale painted aluminium and steel sculptures, drawn from the original Jam Session series.
Hotel Panorama became the maquette for the permanent public sculpture Panorama Station, 2012, for Peninsula Link Freeway, Victoria.
This sculpture now exists as a four metre permanent version in the town of Lorne, Victoria.
The commission Feeling Machines, 2016, for Bowden Main Park, Adelaide, a suite of three large painted aluminium and steel sculptures was drawn from the Supermodel series.