Curatorial Projects > By-product Becomes Product (2013)

Julia Goodman
FEMA 3 Step (detail), 2013
Cast paper, mold from custom sawdust/paper fiber composite boards

“During a time of grief, my focus in making handmade paper shifted to creating surfaces with as much texture as possible. Feelings of absence were echoed in flatness, only countered by working three dimensionally with paper pulp. One strategy for achieving more texture was to deeply gouge out woodcarvings for casting paper. I worked with plywood until I discovered large sheets of discarded MDF. I naively started carving into it, spending days covered in the dust. Detailed carvings were easier with this material because there was no grain.

Two years later, my brother, a mechanical engineer with a focus on sustainable design, connected the materials in my studio to the materials in FEMA trailers for displaced victims of Hurricane Katrina suffering from high-level exposures to formaldehyde; he urged me to switch to formaldehyde-free MDF. This substitute is not as readily available, and unfortunately, filled with other additives – possibly less harmful, but harmful nonetheless. For my project, and for the first time as an artist, I was able to use a composite material that is completely toxin-free.  This new, non-toxic material created by Christine Lee and John F. Hunt holds promise for a safer alternative both in art studios and in homes.

While doing small experiments with carving and casting paper from this material, I reread the news covering the FEMA trailer health tragedy. In conversations with friends and peers, I was surprised to find that these events were mostly unknown or forgotten. More devastatingly, some of the trailers were repurposed by the government to house workers after the BP oil spill. Working with images from the trailer coverage, I felt a sense of urgency to make this issue visible again.” – Julia Goodman

By-product Becomes Product

February 6 – March 30, 2013
Intersection for the Arts
San Francisco, CA

Photo credit: Scott Chernis