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Art + Design’s Professor Knouf Writes Chapter on Electronic Inclusions in Handmade Paper in New Book from MIT Press, Bauhaus Futures

Photo from Professor Knouf's Chapter in Bauhaus Futures.

MIT Press recently released Bauhaus Futures, a book of writings by artists, designers, and scholars that explore possible ways to think about and use the insights and experiences of the Bauhaus 100 years after its founding. Northeastern University faculty member Adriana Knouf, Assistant Professor in CAMD’s Department of Art + Design, wrote a chapter in the book that focuses on the integration of handmade paper, electronics, and writing, bringing ancient and modern technologies together. Entitled “Electronic Inclusions in Handmade Paper, or How to Finesse Material Incongruities in the Spirit of the Bauhaus,” Professor Knouf’s chapter describes how she has drawn from the Bauhaus’s integration of art, craft, technology, and engineering to offer her own explorations in the incorporation of electronics in handmade paper.

Professor Knouf begins her chapter in Bauhaus Futures by highlighting the perhaps unexpected connection between the loom used in weaving and programmable computers, pointing to an argument made by Sadie Plant, in the early days of cyber studies, that “weaving and cybernetics were fundamentally interrelated.” Plant drew an even larger connection to gender identities, arguing that the developments happening in information technology at the time would allow women to “move beyond masculine mimicry.” Relating back to the Bauhaus, Professor Knouf shifts her writing to the more recent reactivation of the power of the Bauhaus weaving workshop, particularly in light of the ways in which the purported gender-neutral pedagogical environment of Bauhaus was, in reality, anything but. These conversations surrounding the art of weaving, technology, and how their interconnectedness could affect larger societal issues like gender, set the tone for Professor Knouf’s chapter.

While weaving is the first art form Professor Knouf explores, the rest of her chapter focuses mainly on papermaking and exploring what it would mean to think about incorporating the ancient technology of papermaking with more “modern” technologies.

“I’ve turned to the Bauhaus weavers in particular because of their connection to the specific qualities of plant or animal fibres, but also because there was no papermaking at the Bauhaus… Papermaking was not a part of the curriculum at the Bauhaus, even though works on paper, such as typographical experiments, were valued,” explained Professor Knouf in her writing. Works with paper, Professor Knouf explains, were not entirely absent from the Bauhaus; certain students had the opportunity to work with newspaper, wire, cellophane, rubber, and wood.

Today, hand papermaking has resurfaced as a craft and has become a regular part of numerous curricula – and Professor Knouf takes the opportunity to bring Bauhaus Futures readers through the papermaking process.

While the steps are straightforward, she reminds her audience that “there are many ways to make paper,” and challenges readers to think outside-the-box when it comes add-ins, or “inclusions.” Her writing describes her own addition of a piezoelectric disk, which can become a mini speaker through changing electric voltages. When she adds this disk, then places the homemade sheets of paper (still somewhat wet from the formation process) on top of a plastic water bottle, the figure dries into a speaker horn.

During her papermaking exploration, Professor Knouf allows for some of the other sheets to dry fully the more traditional way, and she handles them in a different manner – putting them under a laser cutter. This triggers an unexplainable chemical process; the milky clarity of the sheet turns to a solid white where the laser has met the surface. Many questions, considerations, and steps are explored through these processes; read the full chapter for more details on the piezoelectric disk and the handmade papermaking process.

Photo from Professor Knouf’s Chapter in Bauhaus Futures.

“Papermaking and electronic manufacturing technologies allow me to enfold art and science, craft and the digital, the old and the new within a set of objects,” Professor Knouf points out as her chapter concludes. And the combination of the two represent the desired unity between art, craft, science, and technology that is described in the Bauhaus manifesto. The ripples of the Bauhaus informs and entangles with Professor Knouf’s work and activities today; read more in Bauhaus Futures.