Born in 1964 in the Netherlands, paper artist Bianca Severijns works in a comfortable middle ground between sculpture, printed matter, and installation. The identity of paper as a material is flexible, and in Bianca’s case, it is used more as a language than a mere surface. She manipulates blank sheets with her own hands, tearing them apart, one by one, to piece together her next project. To her, a sheet of paper is its own landscapes, filled with nuance and variety in texture. The physical aspect of her process mirrors its conceptual basis; as an artist, she is conscious of the plight of humanity no matter where it originates or what context it plays out in. By representing those who are wrongfully expelled, targeted, cast away or ignored, Severijns makes her message universal. Her paper objects remain objects, but their presence takes on a human-like nature thanks to the ideals that inhabit them. Her pieces, whether they are blankets, vases, tapestries or wearables, take on the role of a vessel, fragile and weighted at the same time.
Protective Blanket Two - © Bianca Severijns
One of Severijns’ most recent bodies of work, titled “Protective Blanket Series” is perhaps the strongest example yet of the artist’s keen attention to crisis. Two of the paper blankets from the collection were shown at the 2019 Venice Biennale, while others were part of a solo exhibition in Tel Aviv, Israel. Together, the pieces form a complete set and physical embodiment of the idea of protection. The promise of protection can translate to shelter, escape, access to basic human rights, or something as simple as a warmth that envelops the body. With that thought in mind, Bianca created the blankets from hand torn paper and textile, imbuing each one with a humanitarian voice. Each draws a connection to the social and legal protections that should, in theory, promise equality and justice to every global citizen.
”Scratched” - © Bianca Severijns 2017
“Scratched” is the title of one of the blankets in the series; the piece can be hung on a wall or, better yet, worn to cover the body like a woven textile is meant to do. As the first work of the collection, “Scratched” is an introduction to complex ideas of displacement and distress that define the rest of it. The work is a preface to the remaining blankets; the edges are left rough to emphasize the act of tearing. “Scratched” is a meditation on both leaving and losing, speaking to the millions of people who identify as refugees or victims around the world. The piece reminds us of basic needs and the simple comfort of those core needs being met. The blanket, though untamed, has an inside as much as it does an outside. Inside it, shelter is found, both from the cold and, even if just for a moment, external circumstance.
The sixth blanket of the series, titled “Thou Shalt Not Kill” is a more pinpointed effort, meant to address the unrelenting patterns of global femicide that often go unnoticed or unaddressed. Femicide defines the killing of a woman by someone she should be able to trust, whether it be a family member or partner, and Severijns hones in on the emotions that victims feel before their lives are taken away. The scraps of paper that make up this blanket are arranged in circular patterns, speaking to the isolation that surrounds a woman in an abusive or unsafe living situation. For many victims of femicide, daily life is filled with the sense that there is no way out. Severijns’ “Thou Shalt Not Kill” translates those unspoken words into a memorial, torn apart and glued together at the seams in a gesture of solidarity. The title of this blanket is an order, read in a steady voice to use tranquility as a weapon against mass violence.
Protective Blanket Series © Bianca Severijns - 2020 - Thou Shalt Not Kill
“Protective Blanket Hide” is yet another piece from the series that deserves special mention. This particular blanket is made to reflect animal skin and the gift that animal has been to man since the dawn of time. “Protective Blanket Hide” is aptly titled; its form holds a raw, minimal truth. Though the prehistoric animal hide has evolved to patterned, woven and laundered textile, the basic comfort that a blanket brings has survived within our conscience. Again, the theme of universality comes to life in one of Severijns’ blankets; in the face of fear, rage, confusion and dilemma, a soft piece of fabric (or, in this case, paper) can provide the same sense of safety to anyone. The artist cites the idea of the blanket being a displaced or at-risk person’s only possession as an important part of her fascination with the subject.
Protective Blanket Two - © Bianca Severijns
The gesture of creating a blanket goes hand in hand with that of giving a blanket to someone in need. The Protective Blanket Series is the artist’s effort to conceptualize crises that are playing out at all times, all over the world. Her visual approach allows patterns, colors and rows to ebb and flow almost like a moving wave of people or a meandering crowd. All parts seem to be in constant movement, not unlike the huge part of the global population that can be defined as fleeing.
Severijns other series from 2020, titled “Earth Matters” and “The Way Home” are smaller-scale examples of the artist’s interest in the act of movement, environmentalism and social justice. In “Earth Matters” we see her use literal broken land from her adopted home of Israel to create work that can be shown against a wall or right on the floor. The pieces within this series speak to the culpability around climate change, as well as its accelerating effects. In “The Way Home” we are taken through a personal journey as much as a universal one. Here, paper is transformed into an individual perception of the road ahead, marked by the joy of movement and the willingness to explore. The spiral shapes that make up this series create an optical effect of outward and inward, and the journey the paper takes reminds us of the simple wonder of encounter.
The Way Home Series © Bianca Severijns - 2020 - Vortex
Bianca Severijns’ most recent bodies of work are a warning as much as they are a meditation. The paper sculptures subvert the nature of the material by adding fullness, weight, and durability. In a natural aggression, fibers are beaten to a pulp to create paper; however, the final result is fragile, blank perfection. Bianca remains fully aware of this type of contrast as she works. Her commentary on the promise of contemporary society rings true in the face of failure.
Work from the artist’s collection is available for purchase and the artist accepts commissions. All photo work for https://biancaseverijns.com is done by photographer Sigal Kolton.