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Paula Arntzen

Issue 64 Dec / Jan 2011/12

Translating light through intricate paper structures, Paula Arntzen brought warmth, elegance and a party spirit to this year’s Dutch Design Week.Eindhoven.

“I think for me it’s very important that my work gives you a warm feeling,” Paula Arntzen says of her approach to product design. “I use a lot of colour, a lot of round shapes, and of course the material is really important. When I find a material I experiment a lot with it to see how it reacts in different situations. That way I know how I can use it in a finished product.”

It was through this process of experimentation that Arntzen first started to explore the possibilities of paper, a material that, to her poetic eyes, shares many of the characteristics of light.

“Paper and light are almost the same,” she explains. “Paper is really lightweight and it can be almost translucent, so the idea of using it to make lighting pieces was really interesting to me.”

Before graduating from Arnhem’s ArtEZ Kunstacademie, Arntzen studied furniture design at Hout en Meubilerings College in Amsterdam, a grounding that gave her a real understanding of - and love for - proper, considered craftsmanship. Whilst she does still take on general product development for clients, lighting – specifically in beautifully constructed paper structures  - has become the primary focus of her personal work over the last two years.

“When I first started doing little experiments with paper and light, everything fell into place for me,” Arntzen says. “I thought, wow - I have to build it out into these monumental shapes.”
Her chance came in 2009 when she was asked to create an installation in St. Eusebius church as part of Arnhem Mode Biennale. The fashion showcase, housed within the 15th century church, had adopted the theme ‘Shapes’ and Arntzen’s white paper constructions proved a perfect match for both this and the church’s traditional white Calvinist interior.

The piece she created was dubbed ‘Paula’s Paper Project’ – a title that hinted at Arntzen’s personal, handcrafted approach. The suggestion that this was a bespoke, artisan piece further underlined the impressive nature of the large-scale structure.

She had two months to prepare, including five days when she drafted in a team of friends to scissor cut the paper pieces and help pre-fabricate the structures before transferring it to the church.

As a working church, there was very little time to carry out the actual install.

“It was so exciting,” she says. “When they lit up, that was the moment that the whole project worked, because the church was so big and I didn’t know until that moment if they would be big enough for the space, but it looked really cool.”

Following on the heals of her success at the Mode Biennale, she put together a series of shrunk down versions of the installation to presented them at the 2009 Dutch Design Week. It was here she first made contact with Artechnica, a Los Angeles based company that collaborates with established and emerging international designers to create inspiring decorative objects, producing them in accordance with humanitarian and environmentally sensitive principles.

This ethical approach coupled with their technical knowledge of large scale cutting processes made them an ideal match for Arntzen. A year later in Novemember 2010, she was in San Francisco launching her first range.

Earlier this year, Arntzen widened her scope by taking on her first interior design project, a small coffee bar in Arnhem called Tape.
Working with a very limited budget, she created a simple but effective scheme built around the owner’s desire for a space filled with eclectic vintage furniture. Lighting was of course key to the project, and two new pieces emerged from the process. The first was a custom wall fitting that used LED lights concealed behind a double layer of the bar’s retro wallpaper. By slicing vertical slits in the upper layer of paper and pushing together the top and bottom ends until the paper buckled open, she created the impression that the wall was being distorted by a ball of light from within. It is, in effect, the ultimate in soft-architecture. While the concept was too site specific to develop as a stand-alone piece, her second idea, a 360º fan of subtly coloured paper wings, seemed to have more potential as a mass production item. This piece, named Butterfly, formed part of the collection Arntzen took to this year’s Dutch Design Week event.

Exhibited at Eindhoven’s Temporary Art Center alongside three artists working in porcelain (the similar properties of paper and porcelain making their teaming up “a good match”) she received very positive reaction which has spurred her on to further develop the Butterfly piece for market. Together with a commission to help create the interiors for a new Fashion&Design Hotel in the Fashion District of Arnhem, Arntzen’s 2012 looks set - on paper, at least - to be a very busy year.


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