In September San Francisco Art Enthusiast came across the Instagram of The Mobile Mill Project, a travelling hand papermaking studio, founded and operated by San Francisco artist Jillian Bruschera. We sat down with her to learn more about the project upon her return to the Bay Area after a cross-country road trip sharing the paper making arts with the public after graduating from Columbia College, Chicago. While a MFA degree-seeking student in the college’s Book and Paper Arts program at The Center for Book and Paper Arts including overseeing the facilities as a graduate assistant, collaborating on special hand papermaking projects for CBPA, and teaching undergraduate courses in introductory hand papermaking, Bruschera was in search of something that would outlive her final thesis one-month gallery show, and extend beyond her graduate career. “Knowing I’d be without the tools to carry on conducting my papermaking, I figured I ought to make my own,” she says.” I had a whole year to focus on building one thing, along with the incredible support of academic mentors… so why not go big?”
Jillian Bruschera of The Mobile Mill Project at the 2014 Roadworks Steamroller Printing Festival
In this age of mobility, from smartphones to food trucks, outfitting a vehicle to accommodate papermaking machine and its ancillary tools came naturally to the artist, and a justifiable progression in light of her upcoming travels back home. “…Logistically that part was never a question in my mind. As a person who is very much a ‘mover’ the general idea of portability appealed to me. Additionally, I knew it would allow me to continue teaching outside of an institution… This sort of process-based, creative pedagogy poses a direct challenge to traditional hierarchies existing in academia and in the art world, moving away from authoritarian models of education and off of the gallery walls… I’ve open-sourced my sketches/thoughts about the building process online at themobilemill.tumblr.com.”
In the early stages of research, she began to learn more about other artist projects that integrated this idea of mobility into their practices. “It was brought to my attention that a “type truck” existed. So I called up Kyle Durrie, proprietor of Power and Light Press in Silver City, NM to talk about ‘Moveable Type’, a mobile letterpress studio she built. Being able to get advice and support from someone who took a similar path was beyond helpful. This is the perfect example of a knowledge-sharing experience that really encouraged me to carry my project out… I think that very little of what we ‘know’ as individuals is learned alone. Arguably, we learn most skills from someone else; we learn by sharing. As a fine craft, hand papermaking was always a shared-skill, carried along since 105 AD via verbal instruction… As much as I may like to work alone, I’m really excited about collaborating with others. I could never be entirely without people. There is just so much to learn from others, and there is so much we can’t do on our own. ”
Students at Khabele Montessori School in Austin, Texas prepare scrap paper materials from their classroom recycling bin for papermaking.
The Mobile Mill was ready for the road by early April 2014 after a successful Indiegogo campaign that provided her funds to customize her truck to haul the necessary papermaking tools while on the road. After a busy summer in Chicago working with well-known organizations such as Chicago Parks District and Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, it began travelling nationally, “but only because I had saved up the monies for a personal move from Chicago to the Bay Area,” she says. “Being able to turn this move into a quickie paper-roadtrip was fun… In eight days, I traveled about 3000 miles through seven states to get to California, making three pit-stops for papermaking because that is what time and money afforded me.” But in a short amount of time, Bruschera’s project made a big impact. “In the past six months, the MM has probably taught somewhere between 500-800 people how to make paper; I’ve worked with participants as young as three years and as old as eighty.”
While working with these hundreds of people, Bruschera says she learned a great deal about interacting the various types of the public in a creative way. “Generally speaking, the adults I have worked with take more time to follow directions – they wait for instruction and ask throughout the process if they’re ‘doing it right’. As a result of working slower, they tend to make “nicer” paper insofar as it is even in formation and lacking of imperfections such as holes or papermaker’s tears.” Working with young people, Bruschera says, provided a completely different experience. “While a young person can also make a pretty damn good sheet of handmade paper, the kids sort of take to a vat like hyper puppies to a food bowl. Sometimes they grab materials and try to use them before I can even get an instructional word in. Their energy is fantastic; most are not afraid to get messy, nor are they afraid to mess up. It’s especially fun to work with youth because they are really willing to do work. When I purpose my younger students with a task – it could be as simple as ripping up a newspaper – they are very obviously empowered. I often overhear these students say enthusiastically: ‘I get to help!’. That’s music to my ears.” Whatever the age, Bruschera says, she simply wants to give the public the opportunity use their creativity as a source of empowerment. “I think one of the pervading messages of The Mobile Mill is one of self-determination. I believe in doing things by hand, and I’m here to teach my students that they can take matters into their own hands.”
Chicago, Illinois youth get their hands wet in the vat, exploring the feel of paper pulp at ‘Sandtastic’ – an annual public program on the lakefront sponsored by the Chicago Park District.
Bruschera shares what particularly about papermaking piqued her interest and how it’s found its way into her artistic practice. “Handmade paper has made its way into nearly all aspects of my interdisciplinary practice. It has become material for installation, performance, collage, painting, writing, spoken-word, book-making, and letterpress printing. I’ve filled sidewalk cracks with paper, pressed pulp directly onto brick walls, and implanted paper artworks into drywall. I love putting things in places they’re not ‘supposed to be’. I’ve also been making a lot of paper bricks, which serve as on-the-spot pulp material for pop-up workshops and double as kindling that fuels campsite fires when I’m on the road.” Revealing unlimited approaches to papermaking, Bruschera shares how her own use of the paper arts to communicate ideas to others. “I prefer to make paper out of waste because I am a big believer in ‘waste-not-want-not’. ‘Working with what you’ve got’ has always been my attitude. … I make from what I already have – for instance junk mail, egg cartons, old cotton t-shirts, ripped denim jeans – I like to give new life to materials that so often serve a one-time purpose and are then abandoned… Lately, I’ve been really curious about embedding obsolete technology inside paper sculptures. Part of being an artist, I have learned, is getting people to see things in new ways.”
While Bruschera does have creative interests beyond the Mobile Mill Project, it has certainly continued to influence and inform her perspective and artistic practice. “For me, The Mobile Mill is about practicing art outside of the studio; it’s a way to share what I know and what I have in terms of rare tools/equipment… and it’s not necessarily concerned with the art market or the production of market-valued art objects for that matter,” she says. “Most certainly it is an environment dedicated to the making of objects… but it’s less about the object and more about the people that are making the paper…In this process, we challenge authorship, ownership, and the preciousness of the art object.” “Running the mill has been a great way for me to get out of my studio and interact with the public realm. It was crowd-funded and constructed in collaborative fashion, the build-out was an especially collaborative process. The Mobile Mill wouldn’t exist without the help of others, and now I feel it exists for others… I’ve met some fantastic people so far, and I’m really looking forward to the future.”
More information about the Mobile Mill can be found at www.TheMobileMill.Tumblr.com. Get in touch with Jillian at TheMobileMill@gmail.com
Air-drying fresh sheets of handmade paper on a clothesline while camping in Joshua Tree National Park.