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Paper Dreams

October 11, 2012

Some dream in color, others in black and white, but for Ario Kiswinar Teguh dreaming in paper is the norm. His artworks, crafted out of repurposed paper, have been everywhere from The National Gallery to Hello Fest. While his work may have earned the prolific artist an income, for Kis (as he’s known to friends), creating art has never been about making money. After all, money is just paper.

Ario Kiswinar Teguh

Paper Artist Ario Kiswinar Teguh, known to friends as Kis.

I met Kis one sunny afternoon in his Jakarta studio. The 25-year-old recently graduated from Trisakti University with a degree in Visual Communication Design. Now three years out and fully submerged in the real world business of being an adult, Kis has not compromised his dream of being a full-time paper artist. But, the path is not without challenges.

“I constantly have to prove my commitment and focus to my family,” says Kis as he gingerly sips his coffee. “They don’t believe I can make a living doing this. My father said to me, ‘you need to wear a tie at your job,’ as if wearing a tie was the benchmark of a legitimate occupation. So for a while I made my paper art while wearing a tie.”

The discarded material that will soon be art.

The discarded material that will soon be art.

As he describes his family’s lack of acceptance, it becomes clear that it’s an issue that weighs on his mind: “My family views art as a hobby, not as a profession. In my culture I have to obey my elders, so it’s hard to break these family customs. It’s hard for me as I stand out with my long hair and unconventional style, but this is who I am. Now that I’m finding success, I know it will be easier for them to understand my choice. I believe my family looks at money as the objective when selecting a career, but I look at money as the effect, or byproduct, of my calling.”

So how does one find a calling in making art from what society readily discards? “I had designer’s block. My drawings became redundant and I had to find another medium. I started watching Art Attack (an instructional TV show for children). I saw how the host was teaching kids how to reuse garbage, and it really resonated with me. I felt compelled to give it a try, and well, here we are,” Kis explains with a wry smile. Works like his 5 kilo paper dress brought Kis much attention and he began building a solid portfolio.

Ario Kiswinar Teguh, A Paper Artist

“I always tell my models to eat before wearing this paper dress as it weighs 5 kilos.”

Discarded paper is something that is ubiquitous in modern life. Whereas some artists have to search out and purchase expensive paints and brushes, the materials for Kis’s work seem to find him. When Kineforum received 1,000 entries for a novel writing contest they sponsored, and due to copywrite laws they had to shred the losing entries, they called Kis and he received tens of thousands of shredded sheets of paper which he then turned into chairs and racks.

Kis, who also made a full-scale Bajaj that was exhibited in The National Gallery and a huge pair of Converse shoes (most recently spotted at Hello Fest) out of repurposed cardboard, has also built a community around his passion for paper art.

The shoes that get everyone to ‘Converse’.

“My community was established in September of 2008. At first it was just a community of people who liked paper sculptures. Later we discovered that these sculptures could be a tool to spread awareness of environmental issues. Many people are surprised to learn that each one of us produces around 340 kilograms of paper waste each year. I made some calculations concerning how many trees were cut down just for the 2009 Presidential Election and I found out it was about 64,762 trees for the election ballots alone. This doesn’t even include regional elections, which tend to get contested, so the amount of cut-down trees gets crazy,” Kis excitedly elucidates. “People who run for office don’t talk about the environment, just corruption, not environmental waste.”

His passion for raising awareness on the issues of deforestation and unmitigated waste, is grounded in his love of creating objects of art. “I have a sense of art in me that I had to find an outlet for. Paper was the cheapest material. Newspaper only lasts a day before we throw it out, but when I turn it into a sculpture it endures for about 50 years. When I turn it into a chair it then has a function. I enjoy bringing people closer to paper, not as a tool to simply read/record stuff, but as a personal object. An object you use every day: chairs, ashtrays, racks… I delight in turning paper into things you love to use.”

Ario Kiswinar Teguy

The Artist and his fully functional recycled creations.

The objects Kis and his paper-loving community make are sold through their Facebook page, “Toko KPK.” The group has about 20 active members. Kis points out: “Anyone can join our community. Many members come from backgrounds in management or communication. They make our point of view broader and their perspective makes us better.” Together the group works to create art objects with an interactive component. The notion of erasing the boundaries between art and life is something Kis wholeheartedly embraces in his personal art projects, and advocates in his community endeavors: “I want to get as close to people as possible to deliver my message. If you want to take the shortest amount of time you need the shortest distance too. That’s why people can touch and interact with my work.” He encourages people to sit in, or “try on” his giant cardboard shoes, and with his community he creates beautiful and surprisingly durable objects that make us re-envision what the role/purpose of paper can be.

Ario Kiswinar Teguh, Recycled Paper Magnets

Recycled Paper Magnets

“When people ask me, ‘how’s your life?’ I can’t say, because I’m not finished yet. I’m doing more than a job, I’m doing my part.” In doing his part through raising environmental awareness, inspiring others, and by pursuing his dream, Kis has become a role model proving that even paper dreams yield great rewards.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Lucy permalink
    October 11, 2012 4:40 am

    Awesome Article Mel :)

  2. Pamela Stacy permalink
    October 15, 2012 11:05 am

    I wish I was as committed or as creative as this man! I love that he “wore a tie”as a solution to the head butting of two generations! That is such a beautiful statement. Super article.

    • Melany permalink*
      October 16, 2012 1:50 am

      Thanks so much for commenting! : )
      ~Melany.

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