01/24/2012 09:24 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Art of Deconstruction: Building from Paper


Blending art with design, paper and a little imagination, artist Judith Hoffman builds her own 'castles in the air.' Think children's paper and cardboard cities, all grown up. "Environment is the central factor in my work. My surroundings and the complexities of location are heavy influences in what I build," she says. The artist is referring to her large-scale paper constructions, which are replicas of modern structures. She then uses video to capture the decomposition of these paper installations. It's a multi-faceted tale of the modern metropolis that perfectly captures the ever-changing face of our contemporary world.

So it's even more fitting that the New York artist recently worked on one of her gigantic paper projects as part of an art-residency program at TechTown's Quark Gallery in Detroit. "I absolutely love Detroit, and it is easily one of my favorite places I have ever been," she gushed to MutualArt in a recent interview. "It is a city humming with energy and filled with a complexity of beauty that only decay can highlight." Indeed, Hoffman's work artfully personifies the rise and fall of a city in one of the country's most complex urban landscapes. (Below, "In Hoping We Find Ourselves: Amsterdam Meets Cass").


Her project is a four-stage process, where she painstakingly reconstructs buildings out of paper, measuring every crevice, length and leveling contained by the architecture. These paper "slipcovers" of sorts are later used as the backdrop for a slideshow, from images taken by local digital artists. (Like this one, in collaboration with Ani Garabedian). The final stage of this paper-turned-performance piece is Hoffman's time-lapse video of the work as it disintegrates, which recreates an artistic replica of urban decay. "[Detroit] appears ravaged by economic flight and is in the slow but steady process of rebuilding itself," she reiterates.

Her work takes on a slightly different tone than many other artists who have sought to capture the city: "It seems like many artists working in Detroit either focus their eye on how that history has visually manifested itself or create works to trigger new hopes and experiences." Hoffman's work does double-duty, incorporating both of these ideas. She says initially, this caused her some trepidation. "As an outsider, I felt incredibly nervous about entering into that discussion but as an individual, growth and decay, especially in man-made structures, are at the heart of my explorations." Which is why the artist's larger-than-life reconstructions (and deconstructions) are so aptly-fitting in this context. (Below: One of Hoffman's fabric works, "Art in Odd Places: Four Doors, 2011").
2012-01-24-arches.JPGHoffman has 'built' with other media as well, such as fabric, but gives preferential treatment to paper, as she says, "it's environmentally responsible given the scale of my sculptures. It's complicated to work with and accessible, which I like. It's well-suited to ephemeral installations and lightweight."

Still, working with the media comes with its own set of challenges. Despite her five-week deadline and the overall enormity of the piece, the biggest obstacle regarding this installation was unpredictable weather. "I foolishly budgeted a day [for installation] because I wanted the piece to be fresh for the opening and was nervous about rain and wind destroying it before anyone had seen it." Yet despite her well-laid plans, Hoffman and her assistants battled mother nature anyway. "At five in the morning that day, I showed up to finish the last small pieces and at eight we began with the roof, which was finished and in place by nine, and had flown off by ten. The rest of the day was a epic battle between us and the wind. We won,"she adds, laughing.


While certainly one of her most ambitious projects, Hoffman's work in Detroit was by no means her first foray into this unique assemblage of architecture. "I had made a paper 'slipcover' for the facade of a building in Nebraska (pictured above) and was invited to make another for the Quark Gallery," she explains. "I knew from the start that I wasn't interested in recreating a piece partially because site is so important when installing public works. During the construction of another piece, I became interested in the translation of architecture from three to two dimensions because it simultaneously maps unexpected topologies and reorients the body's perception of space. I had been looking for ways to categorize that extracted architecture without making a one-to-one re-presentation and was excited about the possibility of expanding the piece to an entire structure." And the decay of the piece is just as essential - perhaps even more so - than the process involved to create it. "...having had some space and time from the work, the video is the most important part of the piece because compressed time gives a view of things we can rarely actually observe: the natural life of an object."

The artist continues to make varied installations that challenge or are in direct response to the environments surrounding her. In terms of the Detroit project, she says, her aim was to "bring beauty and joy to a place in the city where it was never expected." In addition to upcoming collaborative work with artist Loren Erdrich in Brooklyn, she plans to return to her residency at Sculpture Space in New York, to create a large-scale installation piece. Check out one of her installation works, "Dysmorphia," here

Hoffman's ultimate artistic goal is to make work that uses "natural materials to inject softness into areas of human harshness." She hopes her art will "create experiences that inspire response." As a trendsetting artist in 2012, it seems her dreams are fast becoming a reality...mission accomplished!

Written by MutualArt Writer Lauren Meir