Experiments with a human papier-mâché form

The previous research on papier-mâché artists gave inspiration to create a human form (or body part) to experiment with adding it to the installation. The concept behind this was to add an emotive quality that lifted the installation from being a static presentation of fact to a dynamic experience of human suffering.

I created a single arm and hand of a size that mimics a child’s cupped hand, from wood and papier-mâché. We use our arms to protect us from danger but also to claw our way out of a confined space, so the potential reference points were rich. A single arm may be detached from a body or it may be that we simply can’t see the rest of the body. I was interested to explore the idea of the arm breaking through the wall of the installation as this has multiple connotations:

  • The arm could be punching through from the past to the present to show us an alternate history – tearing the recorded news up in the process
  • It could be a symbolic arm that doesn’t represent an individual but shows the suffering of an entire generation
  • The arm could be a body part – which gives an immediate reference to the horrible daily scenes of citizens being bombed we see from Syria and other war zones

Initially, several arrangements were set up using the hand and bomb forms. The hand could be throwing the bomb, as a child would throw a stick or stone. As Banksy will often appropriate a childish activity, we have created a horrific game of ‘catch’. Potentially we could envisage two pairs of hands, one pair on either side of the installation, with one pair throwing the bomb and the other catching it. The idea of seeing a moment frozen in time is quite appropriate as this mimics the feeling my mother must have had hiding under the stairs waiting in terror as bombs fell all around. Taking that moment and turning it into a game defies all logic but it does question what might happen to the human brain in traumatic situations. When all is lost do we lose a sense of reality and adopt a fantasy mindset to protect ourselves? (One Syrian father taught his 3 year old daughter to laugh every time a bomb exploded). This is a fascinating juxtaposition of ideas that is getting very close to what I’m looking for in my outcome.

Next, the hand made paper (minus the proposed milk drawing) and hand were arranged such that the hand was presenting the drawing to us. It is delicate yet the severed hand gives a hint of the macabre. The hand rises towards us confidently and presents us with something to dwell on. We are either being told “I made this”, “This is my story” or “Help me”. Having previously thought that the papier-mâché object and hand made paper would merge into a single piece (and might be an issue) I now feel that they work well together – their similarity gives them a similar context as if they are from the same ‘world’. This could be a child presenting their picture to us but the hand facing down is a very dominant position so this confuses us slightly. Maybe this story is being told by the adult version of the same child? The challenge still remains what to place on the hand made paper or even whether to use industrial paper for better clarity of image.

The above are two positive experiments and the options are either to use one of them in isolation or to use them both together. So we could create an installation where bombs are being thrown across the space but behind them we are presented with a set of traumatic images. Does this add richness or will it create a mass of confused messages? In support of this combination it would allow us to show how a child can just as easily see something as a game as a traumatic experience. A different brain will work things out in a different way. This brings nurture and nature into the equation and we could ask a viewer to consider why some children are impacted by traumatic experiences throughout their whole lives whereas others manage to overcome them. We as adults have a part to play in helping them deal with their hidden anxieties.

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