Tamil Nadu, South India
Text and Photography Johanna Tagada
My curiosity and enthusiasm towards Auroville Papers is the simple, and fruitful result of acquiring an Auroville Papers sketchbook. Exploring on an individual human scale the physical, and creative possibilities of transforming by-products and waste materials in my artistic practice, I remained positively intrigued by the printed note that lingered inside the notebook’s pages reading No tree has been cut for the making of this item. As we are frequently hastened to consume non-renewable goods fiercely, I felt encouraged to engage with this endeavor.
Auroville Papers, as suggested by its name, is a paper manufacture located in the rural state of Tamil Nadu, South India, and an integral part of Auroville, an experimental township founded in 1968. This artisanal initiative was successfully initiated by Serge Brelin in 1996, and has been organically growing ever since.
The lush and serene atmosphere of the facility, from its office to production structures, owns much to German born architect Poppo Pingel, and Italian native Pino Marchese.
Since its founding, Auroville Papers focuses solely on hand-made paper produced out of cotton rags, vegetable fibers and recycled paper collected at nearby schools and offices. “ We conceive and make our paper the way a weaver conceives and weaves his cloth, ” says the dynamic Luisa Meneghetti who has been involved with Auroville Papers for the past nineteen years, and currently Auroville Paper’s executive manager. Throughout time Auroville Papers has developed several innovative methods, doing so by harvesting indigenous plants such as banana leaves directly and locally. An economically sustainable upcycling production method is applied daily, debuting with the collection of left over pieces from the production of organic cotton garments at nearby companies. These are gathered at the manufacturing complex, and cut into tiny pieces by hand. Individual segments are then purely, and effectively dissolved in water. The blend created, and stocked in large basins is finally placed on to a mesh, a tool that levels the thickness of the paper sheets. The manual process continues here, as sheets are created one by one, at the rhythm of the wind, the sound of the rain on the metallic roof, and chirping of birds that gather on the canopy. As days comes to their end, the production sitting on wooden trays, and resulting in individual sheets of paper separated by white cotton cloths, are pressed using an impressive mechanical compressive force. Finally, these are lifted one at a time, from the dividing textiles, and let to rest for several days between larger and thicker pieces of piled papers in pastel shades. Both water and time have key role in this natural production process. Auroville Papers is presently able to offer papers that hold at their chore an ecological consciousness that preserves the integrity of the creative process.
A further example of the sensitivity present at Auroville Paper is the informal and quotidian recreative gatherings, as the days at the complex are poetically rhymed by the sound of a familiar bell announcing collective teatime pauses. Sitting on a vibrant red bench, sipping on sweet hot lime tisane, I realised Auroville Papers is also a unit reflective of the diversity of Auroville. Indian, Iranian, Italian, French, Belgium are only some of the nationalities of the workers and volunteers I meet on my visits. In accordance with the 2017 census, there are 36 workers; of which 71% are women coming from the surrounding villages.
During the days shared at Auroville Papers respectively in 2017 and 2018, I experienced at very first hand, and as rightfully expressed by Luisa that “the art of papermaking is one that holds limitless possibilities”, and I hope some that perhaps could inspire our, often unthoughtful, production processes.
Johanna Tagada is a painter and interdisciplinary artist based in London, and currently in residency in India. Her practice composed of painting, drawing, installation, sculpture, film, photography and writing, often conceals ecological messages, rendered in soft and delicate methods. In several of the artist’s projects interaction with the environment and others plays a central role. Solo exhibitions include Épistolaire Imaginaire – Merci at Galerie Jean-Francois Kaiser (Strasbourg, France – 2017) and Take Care - きをつけてat Nidi Gallery (Tokyo, Japan – 2018). In autumn 2018, Johanna was a guest speaker at Å Journal’s event series No Ocean, No Life in Copenhagen. InOtherWords Imprint recently published the artist’s first book titled Daily Practice.