Charles Darwent on Paper at the Saatchi Gallery: He's all over the papers again

view gallery VIEW GALLERY
3.00

A free show of throwaway material may sound lightweight, but it's brighter and breezier than the heavy-handed hype

Ashow called Paper. Lighter to put on than the Royal Academy's Bronze, no doubt, but potentially rather larger. Exclude canvas and panels of various kinds and what two-dimensional art isn't on paper? The Saatchi Gallery is big, but not that big.

It is the Saatchi Gallery, though, which means that its interests are limited. Where Bronze took in 5,000 years of art-making, Paper takes in around five (2008-13). It also doggedly excludes the kind of object suggested by the words "works on paper". This is Saatchi-art, which is to say hip and new. So Paper was bound to be an interesting show, although it ends up being less interesting than it might.

The problem, as often, is with the hype. It's fair to say that, outside the realms of sculpture, bronze doesn't have much resonance for most of us. Paper does. Consider the thing you're reading, the thing it's printed on and the chilling words "paperless society". Paper has a moral significance, exists at a critical moment. The Saatchi show promises art that addresses these issues, that is not just work-on-paper but work-of-paper. For much of the time, though, it doesn't deliver.

That doesn't mean that some of the objects in Paper aren't good. A few even fit the paper-centric remit promised by the show's publicity handout (printed, of course, on paper). So let us start with the positive.

The Colombian artist Miler Lagos – at 40, antique by Saatchi standards – turns the clock back by compressing waste paper into cylinders and carving these into branches. From wood were ye made, and to wood shall ye return again: it is the ultimate in recycling. Much of Colombia lies in the Amazon basin, where trees are being cut down very much faster than Lagos can resurrect them – a sobering truth soberly spelt out by his floor installation.

There is something of the same spirit in Yuken Teruya's LVMH series, paper bags from posh shops – Pucci, Christian Dior, Givenchy – which Teruya has fixed to the gallery wall in a row, making a sequence of diminutive box spaces. In each space is a single, Godot-ish tree, fine-cut from the paper of the bag itself and pushed up into standing position.

It is all very Japanese, which is part of the point. Cut paper has a specific history in the art of Japan, so that the idea of a paperless world encompasses the death of a national tradition. At the same time, Teruya reminds us about the trees cut down to feed this tradition, the status of art as a luxury good. Each of his bags is a miracle of complexity, a moral drama played out in miniature. They would be worth going to see even if you had to pay to get into the Saatchi Gallery, which you do not.

So far, so good. Next down in terms of see-ability is work that is interesting but for which being made of paper seems pretty much coincidental. Nina Katchadourian's Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style are shot mid-flight in the toilets of passenger planes. (One imagines queues of fellow passengers cursing her name, but let that rest.) Nipping in with her mobile phone camera and raiding the kind of things you find in airline lavs (disposable seat covers, tissues, etc), Katchadourian photographs herself done up like a 15th-century Flemish woman.

Like the digital images she takes, the materials Katchadourian uses are throwaway. There is something disturbing about the clash of traditional ideas of portraiture – the point of Van Eyck and the rest was to immortalise, after all – and the modern cult of the disposable. These are astonishing images, and many of Katchadourian's props are made of paper. But is her work really about paper?

Contrariwise, Marcelo Jacome's Planos-pipas no 17 could be made of nothing but, consisting as it does of Brazilian paper kites. Its flying-dragon form celebrates the material's lightness. Jacome's lovely, room-long work has the feel of a Futurist drawing trying to capture motion, of kite-swoops frozen in space and time. But it doesn't address the moral and historical problems of paper, paper's here and now.

Many works in the show are intriguing, but few have very much to do with the material of which they are made. They are objects such as photographs and watercolours, for which paper is merely a useful vehicle. But I don't mean to cavil, and I wouldn't, had Paper not oversold itself, or been oversold.

To 29 September

Critic's Chopice

Seizure started life in an old London council flat: Roger Hiorns coated the interior with copper sulphate, prompting sharp, rich blue crystals to form all over it. It's just been installed in a new environment, at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. For very different site-specific art, visit Uncommon Ground, which brings together the work of British land artists 1966-1979. Get earthy with Antony Gormley (pictured), Susan Hiller and others at Southampton City Gallery (to 3 Aug).

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test