In 1953 Ray Bradbury put paper to flames in his dystopian novel “Fahrenheit 451,” which was inspired by censorship taking place during our nation’s McCarthy era. Bradbury showcased an America that banned books and required firemen to burn all that had been outlawed. In this world, renegades memorized great literary novels that were being burned, in order to spread the knowledge and keep it exchanged freely. Local paper artist Fritzi Huber has taken inspiration from this 60-year-old work in her latest project: creating a lantern for Cameron Art Museum’s annual holiday show, “Art of Illumination.”
“I’m very fond of the book,” Huber tells—“of the thought that there would be no more books, that in order to remember, we would need to internalize the writing on the pages of the to-be burnt material—paper. As much as I think the digital age is a gift, it worries me for the future of books. The future of letters, of tangible history.”
The title “Fahrenheit 451” represents the degree at which paper catches fire. Huber as a paper artist uses the title of her lantern as a warning. “There is an intent to remind one of paper’s fragility by emulating the glow of a flame inside,” she continues.
However, it’s made with protective materials so the opposite showcases paper and fire’s shared reality—a “coexistence,” so to speak, which is what Huber normally wanted to name her lantern. She hoped to reflect the relationship between natural and man-made materials by using mizutamashi paper (also called “drops of water” or “rain paper”).
“It’s a contemplation of how this ‘rain’ paper might quell anxiety about fire,” she tells. Huber made the paper one sheet at a time and pressed and layered them, then added mesh at the top before another sheet was laid to create a sandwich effect. “Once pressed, they were brushed onto a pellon surface to dry,” she says.
She then peeled them and put them into the final stage of creating mizutamashi: adding water. The droplets created watermarks. “I’ve put sheets out in the rain before to achieve this effect,” she tells. But in the month it took her to create the project, she emulated rain by dropping water from 3 feet above the paper. “It was important to me to have the interior clouds and the outer walls [of the lantern] be of the same dynamic rain pattern,” she describes.
The watermarks are not apparent to the eye when the lantern is dark. When it’s aglow, the patterns can be seen. “It’s sort of like an unlit match with its potential to flame,” Huber adds, “a rather ordinary object holding a secret within.”
Huber’s lantern is a dichotomy of ideas, wherein the actual paper contains the flame and the moist clouds protect the paper. Somehow in her execution, neither threaten the other. “They’re cohabiting the same space,” she notes. “It speaks to balance, as well as to the two disparate materials used.”
It’s covered by plastic webbing, which Huber included to help strengthen its shape. “It will melt before it will burn,” she tells. A real flame won’t be used in the lantern; instead an LED light illuminates it in both warm and cool tones. When the light is off, the lantern is completely pink. Once it’s lustrous, the glow turns rich and warm with yellow undertones.
“Red seemed too aggressive, orange too glaring,” Huber tells. “Pink is a very calm, inviting color; nonthreatening, not aggressive as other warm tones might tend to be. And yellow is too ‘Wake up! The sun is out!’”
Huber originally intended to hang the lantern but decided for it to be a standing light source instead, so folks could see its glow from within. As well, she attached tiny legs on the lantern so it appears to merely float. The shimmering glow creates layers of cloud images that reflect on the walls.
“Growing up there was a lot of candle light in our evenings,” Huber reflects of youth and the impact of light. “I have a very romantic association with the ambiance of low lighting. But the high point for lanterns and my appreciation of them came about in 2005, while spending time in Kamala, Thailand.”
Huber was visiting a festival of traditional arts from 13 provinces. The event included bird-singing contests and an illuminated fair of lanterns at nightfall. More so, the lanterns were used “in a re-enactment of seven generations of division and reconciliation between what was then Burma and Siam, the people in the region.” According to Huber, it was a magical experience.
Wilmingtonians will be able to take in a bit of the magic in a different way, as CAM opens “Art of Illumination” on Friday, Dec. 1, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. The public will be able to view the exhibit Dec. 2- Jan. 7, with a special Floating Lantern Ceremony taking place on Dec. 10, 4 p.m. Other artists contributing to the show include Rebecca Yeomans, Nicolette Johnson, Angela Rowe, Cara Bevan, Pate Conaway, Leatha Koefler, Katherine Webb, and Grey Pascal.
Art of Illumination
Opening reception: Dec. 1, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. • $10-$16
Refreshments and music from Massive Grass
Public opening: Dec. 2-Jan. 7
Floating Lantern Ceremony
Dec. 10, 4 p.m.
Free; donations welcome
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