Paper Parade: The Haunting Sculptures of Riki Moss

When I first saw Riki Moss’s work, I held the same fascination and empathy for the sculptures as I would for a mummy. These gesture-driven creatures—some looking like the contorted figures from Picasso’s Guernica, some looking like strange fossils—are part animal, part man, and part plant. They are mixed-media pieces made largely from handmade abaca paper. This weekend, Moss’s work will be on display at Arts Riot as part of the Burlington Book Festival.

“These pieces I wanted to get down to the bone.” Moss said, “I didn’t want to embellish them with any signifiers of their culture. I wanted any forms of life that came from them to come from their gestures.”

Each piece is made from abaca paper, which is made from a certain species of Philippine banana leaf. Moss gets compressed sheets of the fiber and makes the paper herself—a day-long procedure, which includes tearing and soaking the fiber and then beating it in a machine for seven hours. Her sculpting process is to work with wire to get the general shape of the piece, to nail down the legs, and lastly to find the gesture. She said “Then [the pieces] declare themselves and we have each other.”

Moss didn’t start out sculpting. She has a history in both pottery and paint. When I asked her how she ended up working with paper, she said, “I was painting and the last big painting I did—which was 12 by 6 feet—I could feel that the forms really wanted to come out and be three dimensional. I wanted a material that was light and wanted it not to be clay.”

As her sculpting influences, Moss mentioned Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith and William Kentridge. She described an animation project of Kentridge’s in which black cutouts moved across a space, and how the work evoked a story of South African oppression. She said it was “very rough and unbelievably powerful,” adding, “That stuck in my mind—the idea of a procession.”

This exhibit is also a procession of sorts. Moss said that she wants to communicate that these creatures are part of a parade that comes in and continues out from the space—that it is not made up of just the sculptures on display, but is part of a larger whole. Although she says the meaning of her work is the dialogue between the pieces and the viewer, she draws inspiration from man’s abuse of the environment. “I just feel like the [human] species has blown it in so many ways and will have to deal with it. That’s always in my mind and that’s another reason to pare [the pieces] down to nothing. Their homes aren’t there. They’re just passing through.” She added, “I focus on the amalgamation of life forms. To hope that by presenting them, people will be moved to think about them and protect them, perhaps.” But she doesn’t want the pieces to feel like a dead end. “My parents were your age during World War II and it seemed like the end of the world then . . . . Life keeps going—And there’ s a lot of joy in it too.” She said the exhibit is meant to communicate “all those feelings.”

Moss’s work has been displayed internationally including in Nagoya Japan, in Holland at the Holland Paper Biennial, and at various exhibits around the US. You can learn more about her projects by visiting www.rikimoss.com, and www.mutualgaze.com.

- Laura Heaberlin