Residency : Abi Pirani - April, 2011



Over the last few weeks, Abi Pirani’s work has been a great source of curiosity in the Project Ability studios: a huge yet intricate and delicate papercut, with layers of colour and very detailed patterns.

Artist in residence for the month of April, Abi has been cutting paper for as long as she can remember: “I have been making art since I was very small, I started like everybody else, cutting snowflakes at school aged 8, and haven’t stopped. I remember an old school report saying ‘Abi will not go far in life if she continues cutting paper during lessons’” She laughs. “And here I am, 45 years later, still doing it!”

In her early teens, one of her father’s Polish friends sent him a card with Polish paper work on it. “I was hooked! I investigated and discovered papercutting was a worldwide folk art.” Abi Pirani spent a lot of time researching this art, went to libraries (“It was pre-Google!”) and learnt this difficult craft on her own. For the work produced during the residency, she used knives, scissors and layers. “There are two main tendencies in papercutting: the Chinese trend, who tend to cut with only knives – but they had 3000 years to master the art!- and the Polish one, with usually a black background and layers of colour on top. Though every country has their own style.”

Abi first contacted Project Ability in order to volunteer in our workshops, as she aims to work with children and people with disabilities. However, the originality of her art meant that we were eager to discover more about her practice: she was offered a residency instead. And it seems to be going really well: “I spent 60 hours doing the biggest papercut I have ever made!”

 Abi had a pretty clear idea of what she wanted to achieve during her residency, and part of it was to just let the work go where it wanted to go. “I have just come through massive changes, I just moved up North, I was into the whole idea of change.” The papercut is called ‘ProbAbility Wave’. “I knew I wanted to make waves, and it started from there. The idea was to see where probability would have me end up.” The work is now finished, and gathered a lot of interest and positive feedbacks from other Project Ability artists. So much so that she has organised three workshops for artists attending the Connect programme. “People will have the opportunity to have a go, and they will also bring new ideas.”

Now that her principal project is finished, Abi Pirani just started working on a painting. “Well, I’m trying, because I’ve never painted before! I see other people painting here, and I have the opportunity to try, so why not? I am very impressed and inspired by Pum [Dunbar, other artist in residence]’s paintings.” Abi’s painting is a number of small canvases stitched together. “They are fragments of my life, they’re about where I am now and where I am heading. A bit like a sign-post.”

Is the residency a positive experience, then? “Absolutely! It’s wonderful having a huge amount of space, not worrying about the mess on the floor, having people around that can help me do what I want to do. I usually work at home, here I can go big, spread out, and tackle things I wouldn’t have been able to do.”

With her many years of practice, and with papercutting becoming quite a popular and inspiring craft for other creative sectors, Abi Pirani has many more incredible works under her sleeve. “You can do anything, you know, these days you can even get cuts done by lasers... That’s not for me though, I will stick to my knife!”

Abi Pirani’s work will be exhibited in January 2012, along the other artists participating in our Residency 2011 programme. Previous exhibitions in West Yorkshire during 1980s and Kirkcudbright, SW Scotland in 2003, 2004, and 2009.