The Grammar of Stones

Paper and stone

Stones look similar from a distance… but looking closer, each one is unique, shaped over time by water and wind. Just taking it in your hands, the stone speaks to you through its weight, size, texture, color, shape, hardness, maybe its humidity, its sound. A stone appears so unchangeable, immobile, monolithic, indivisible. It is probably thousands years old. Each of them has a long story, maybe it was a part of a mountain or it traveled through the see.

choosing a stone

The poetress Wisława Szymborska wrote a beautiful poem describing an encounter with a stone:

I knock at the stone’s front door
“It’s only me, let me come in.
I want to enter your insides,
have a look around (…)
“Go away,” says the stone.
“I’m shut tight. Even if you break me to pieces,
we’ll all still be closed.

A broken stone

The poetress continues to ask many times:
It’s only me, let me come in.
I’ve come out of pure curiosity.
And every time the stone answers
You shall not enter.
You may get to know me but you’ll never know me through…

I do not want to write it all here, as I warmly suggest you to entirely read this “Conversation with a stone” by youtself, at your own pace. Anyway, this poem beautifully shows the gap between us – humans – and the stone. How do we face with this gap? Can we accept we can not understand something that is too different, too distant from us? Can we just welcome this natural limit, that depends on both our natures? What is our reaction when the message (of a material or of a person) is “You can’t enter here”?

Now, let’s imagine that, in a early childhood context, a child wants to color a stone. What would you suggest? Of course, there is not only one right solution, anyway, I think that if you had a “listening approach” towards the stone, you could easily make a choice that is is attuned and consistent with its essence. Probably, not covering it with acrilic paint, so colorful and plastic, or tracing it with markers…

… maybe immersing it in some water and colored ink. Each stone will absorbe the colored water according to its consistence, so that they will remain all different. Some will change a lot, some will stay the same, some will take a new light shade. I have nothing against ladybug-stones or faces-stones, and so on, but think that – if you do such a thing – you can not really encounter a stone or a ladybug.

Personally, I also do not like using any kind of glue with stones – as I do not perceive they are connected. I prefer to play with weight, balance, compositions. Also, when I present stones in a workshop for children, I do not like to provide glue but other materials, like paper, fabris, threads. As an example, I would like to show you a stand and a workshop I designed for a big event, many years ago.

It was dedicated to paper and stones, two so different materials… one so light and flexible, the other so heavy and fixed. Adults and children of every age could freely come in. They were invited to carefully observe the presented materials, and then, to choose some ones, collecting them in a bag.

How can paper and stones meet? This was the question that people were asked to investigate, sitting on a table with their chosen materials. The objective was not to have a final product but playing with the materials and their encounters, even if a final work often took shape as an answer.

Sculptures with paper and stones

Here, the grammar of paper met the grammar of stones. Before the creative process happens, the potentials of both materials were already there, but silent. While the material is transformed, its nature unfolds. In other words, it is a mutual enrichment, respecting the specific potential and limits of both parties.

Would you like to try? You can use any kind of paper you have at home, of any shape, as well as any kind of stones. You are also welcome to share your investigations… Enjoy and see you to the next chapter of the grammar of matter!

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If you are interested in the world of the materials, you are welcome to join the Facebook group “The grammar of matter”.

Dialogue with a sheet of paper

dialogue with a sheet of paper

Imagine you are seeing a sheet of paper for the first time in your life: who’s that? The sheet speaks to your eyes, only by its presence: color, shape, size, location in the space. Maybe it speaks to your nose by its light smell. Then for the first time you take it in your hands. It communicates through its texture, hardness or softness, consistency, humidity, weight, and also with its sounds.

If you are curious, with an open mind while observing and touching it, the sheet will reveal you its possible transformations. For example, you immediately guess you can fold or roll it: it seems the sheet itself, for its characteristics, invite you to do such actions, as other ones like crumpling or tearing. What objects and tools seem to be attuned to interacting with this material? Scissors, stapler, hole punch, needle, nail, fork… And why not water? In how many ways the sheet can be transformed with these tools?

Each one of these actions can be developed through endless variations. For example, as far as folding, you could use different fold’s sizes, inclinations, proportions, different shapes of the starting sheet, different rhythms… Then, you can combine all these actions: cutting and folding, wetting and crumpling, and so on. Moreover, choosing different types of paper each one will react differently.

“Folding Techniques for Designers” by Paul Jackson; “Il gioco creativo – La carta”

You can see as even a simple material like a sheet of paper holds within itself an entire world, waiting to be discovered. BUT in every dialogue there are two partecipants. Until now, we have considered only the material. What about the other one (me, you or the child that handles it)?
Every action on matter evokes some kind of associations, emotions or memories. For example tearing and cutting are probably perceived in different ways by the same person. Thus, each person has got some favourite actions she likes doing with a specific material. In the meantime, everyone will do the same action in her own way (with a certain speed, muscle tone, care, pressure, mood, focus, etc.). This is why every encounter is unique. Isn’t this amazing?

Photo by Orit Jacobson

In the beautiful book “The spirit of matter”, Nona Orbach and Lilach Galkin deeply investigate just that: the connection between our inner world and materials. They write: Each individual has a way to internal dialogue, usually words, images and metaphors. Living a close relationship to art materials, we find ourselves conversing through them in our personal creative process, as well as when observing others’ development. Physical matter is not merely an object, tool, paste or powder. It is words taken from the concrete world, which undergo personalization and serve to express an internal world.

Now, imagine you wants to create (or you ask children to create) with a sheet of paper a specific product, for example a little boat of a certain shape. In this case, you will not really “see” that sheet in all its potential, as you are focused on your predefined goal and will use paper only as a means. Of course nothing bad with it… But the approach I am speaking about is something else. It is a mutual interaction in which both the two partecipants are playing, so that the material is not completely forced in a prior idea.

This could also be an interesting metaphor of a dialogue between two persons. If one of them is not interested in the other and only talks about himself without listening, whatever person he will have in front of him, he will say the same words. In the meantime, the other one will be totally passive and between the two there will not be any kind of exchange. Instead, being in relationship will open new and unexpected paths.
Of course, there are many possible balances, symmetrical or not, between the two parts. For example, you could have a quite precise idea to realize, like a paper boat, but you will let the material suggest the better shape or dimensions, according to its characteristics.

So, how can you describe your dialogue with a material? Who leads, who follows? The leader and the follower can switch during the same creative process: how does this happen?

Pre-schools teachers from Fano, Italy

In the relational approach I tried to describe, the personality of matter meets the personality of the creator. Before the creative process takes place, both the potentials were already there, but silent. While transforming the material, you are making visible your unique essence; in the meantime, while the material is transformed, its nature unfolds.

Photo by Nona Orbach

Every human being holds within them a combined heritage of characteristics, likes and dislikes that make them who they are. Actions imprinted upon matter may represent this richness. All of these qualities, when assembled and marked down on paper, clay, etc., leave visual signs that create a unique fingerprint. This essential imprint will develop and become enriched throughout our life, if given the chance. This is how the artist and art therapist Nona Orbach beautifully describes the unique essence that every person reveals through matter in the creative process.
In other words, it is a mutual enrichment, respecting the specific potential and limits of both parties. An ecological, empathic approach towards world, to whatever big and tiny thing we meet.

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#thegrammarofmatter

If you are interested in the world of materials, you are welcome to join “The grammar of matter” group on Facebook.

What’s the sound of paper?

the sound of paper and sound books

Colors, shapes, textures, consistency, hardness or softeness, weight, dimension, smells, sounds… Each material speaks to us through all our senses, but above all, we are used to consider the visual informations. Here I would like to share my investigation about an often overlooked aspect of a material I love: the sound of paper. How many action can we do creating different sounds with paper? Let’s try.

  • Crumpling
    Every action made with a different type of paper will produce different sound nuances. Reopening the paper and crumpling up again, will the noise be the same? You can collect various pieces of waste paper and crumple them, one after another, in a kind of sound farewell ritual before throwing them away.
  • Shaking
    Make the sheet vigorously oscillate in the air with one hand.
    The sound changes according to different dimensions and thickness of the sheet of paper.
  • Tearing
    You can draw the direction and the lenght of the tear, mark the stops, change speed and rhythm of tearing.
  • Rustling
    Have you ever tried to quickly leaf through the pages of a book? It makes a very nice sound… Here are some books I created in order to increase the rustling-sound, made of different kind of very “noisy” paper.

The pages can be cut in different size, so that it is easier to leaf through the book, investigating different sounds and finger movements. It is also possible to alternate strips of various types of paper in the same book, or to differentiate strips of the same type by glueing small objects, in order to increase the rustle. You can play a “Rustling Book” holding it by the bound side and shaking it, making it swing, pinching the pages with different rhythms.

Rustling books

Another kind of sound-paper-object is the Accordion Book. It is made by folding orthogonally two strips of paper joined at one end, as you can see in the picture below. Once the bending is finished, a thicker cardboard has been glued on the two ends. A rubber band fixed in the two cardboard pages will be used to insert the hands. You can play it holding both ends, then opening and closing it horizontally or outwards. Otherwise placing it on a table, then opening and closing it vertically with one hand.

accordion-book
Accordion book

You can also make a sound-book with a descriptive-narrative function that accompanies a story telling with some relevant noises at the right time.
“…she was going through the woods…” (rustling of crepe paper leaves)
“…and branches broke as he passed…” (crumpling of baking paper)

Sound-book

“…they slowly got out of their beds…” (rolled and unrolled toilet paper)
“…and and they ran fast on the gravel road…” (sandpaper imprints crawling on a rough surface)
“…till the land of the silence song.” (the book closes)

sound-book

“In ancient times life was immersed in silence. Today, however, it is always accompanied by noise: everything we have around produces a noise. The noise is therefore a familiar experience to our ears, while the musical sound represents an occasional element, built in its perfection, not very spontaneous, limited. Finally, let’s break the narrow boundaries of pure sounds to venture into the infinite variety of sounds and noises. The noise that comes to us confused, irregular and always different, holds innumerable surprises. Let’s learn to listen it … “


“The art of noises” by Luigi Russolo, 1913

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