“Paper is unique; a lot of people don’t think about how it’s made, because it’s everywhere all the time. Making it just sort of changes your point of view on paper,” says artist Maggie Puckett, third-year student at Columbia College Chicago and December’s featured banner artist. She sat down with us for an interview on her craft, environmentalism, and dangerous paper.
Q: When did you begin working as an artist?
“I’ve always been an artist. I was always drawing when I was little, and then I went to a visual and performing arts school for middle school. In that school we did everything with art and art projects–either visual or performing–and that’s how we learned about math and the social sciences. It was really fun; I loved school. In high school I kept painting and drawing and then I went to undergrad to do studio art.”
Q: What was it that attracted you to working with paper specifically?
“Before I went to Columbia College Chicago I had never gotten to work with handmade paper and it took me about a year of being in the program to really fall in love with it because it’s very physical and wet and very hard labor in terms of being an art form. I had worked on paper a lot and had done a lot of bookmaking, but I’d never actually experienced making my own paper until I got to Columbia and I fell in love with it because of all the possibilities of resources that you can take to put into the paper, and the processes involved in making the paper itself can really inform the final piece. Paper is unique; a lot of people don’t think about how it’s made, because it’s everywhere all the time. They don’t think of where it comes from, and making it just sort of changes your point of view on paper.”
Q: You get a lot of inspiration from natural or ecological sources. What about nature inspires you specifically?
“I grew up in Southern California on the beach and so I was always interested in the ocean. I wanted to be a marine biologist. I took the most adorable classes–little children science stuff at aquariums–but it was too scientific. I love science, but it can often be very rigid, so the combination of art and natural systems and sciences is really intriguing when they can merge. New possibilities happen there.
“Also, recently I’ve been doing a lot of research about the effects of humans on the environment and climate change and using my work to call attention to these issues and help people to realize that we can’t just stick our heads in the sand anymore. It interests me a lot, showing people how beautiful nature is and how the systems work and teaching people about natural systems through art. It’s a little easier for them to grasp that way rather than reading science journals, which aren’t usually made for people who aren’t well-versed in science.”
Q: What was the inspiration behind Salty, which is the project we’re going to be featuring?
“Originally I wanted to make paper with saltwater because I’m thinking about, after school, making a papermaking studio. I would love to build one in southern California, but it’s in a perpetual drought there and papermaking takes a lot of water, so that doesn’t work. I would love to have a papermaking studio on the beach, and then we could pump in ocean water. I know that if we actually used salt water my paper wouldn’t be as archival as other papers, but a lot of my work isn’t very archival; it’s about the process of breaking down and highlighting that and not making it last forever. If I want to make [something] last forever, I’ll make it out of plastic.”
Q: So how long does saltwater paper last?
“I don’t know. So far it’s held up great, and it could be many years before something happens to break it down.”
“About Salty, I was just pulling test sheets of paper in saltwater and I wanted to taste it to see if it was really salty. It was really salty and so I thought of the experience of when you’re swimming in the ocean–you always get some saltwater in your mouth and it’s really strong and it’s really visceral. Making a book that created a way for people to experience that by licking it just seemed immediately hilarious. I’ve had a few people actually lick it which is great. A lot people are like, ‘I’m not doing that’–you know, there’s no way to tell if someone else has actually licked that spot so it shied people away. Then it became part of this dangerous paper series that I’ve been working on, so the idea of transferring germs that way makes the paper sort of dangerous and makes the paper more meaningful and important.”
Q: You’re doing a series on dangerous paper?
“I call it a conceptual medium: Dangerous Paper. It focuses on things that could be potentially dangerous, physically dangerous or even intellectually dangerous. It could be anything from copyright infringement to putting a virus on the paper, which I probably wouldn’t do. It could be thorns in the paper, something that would actually hurt you. Paper just opens itself up to these.”
Q: Just a bit more about saltwater paper–was it particularly difficult compared to other projects you’ve worked on?
“No, it seemed like making it was exactly the same, I just put table salt in there. I’m thinking of pushing it further when I go to California and actually making paper in the ocean so that it’s actual salt water. I’d try to take components from the actual water because it’s not just salt, and try to find those minerals and actually add them to my vat here in Chicago, which would push it further and actually make it more like saltwater.”
Q: So, how are you liking Columbia college Chicago overall?
“I love it. I love school. I don’t like when school ends but I’m trying to think of all the fun things that happen after school and all the adventures I can have then. I won’t have access to the papermaking studio then, so I’ll have to figure that out. There aren’t a lot of papermaking studios in the world so it would be really fun to set some up in my lifetime.”
Great. And now we’d just like to ask you a few of the questions we ask all of our interviewees.
Q: What is your all-time favorite book?
“The Sea Around Us, by Rachel Carson.”
Q: What was the last book that you read?
“Mark Lynas’ Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet.”
Q: What one word do you love?
Q: What one word to you despise?
Q: Often, when crafting a piece of work, artists and writers strive to please or impress a very specific one-person audience, be it their mother, their spouse, or a high school teacher. Who were you thinking of in this way when you were working on Salty?
“Salty isn’t meant to impress anyone in particular, but to inspire anyone who isn’t already thinking ecologically about their environment, and to engage people who have never ever licked a book before!”
Thank you so much, Maggie!