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TED2011

Béatrice Coron: Stories cut from paper

March 1, 2011

With scissors and paper, artist Béatrice Coron creates intricate worlds, cities and countries, heavens and hells. Striding onstage in a glorious cape cut from Tyvek, she describes her creative process and the way her stories develop from snips and slices.

Béatrice Coron - Papercutter artist
Béatrice Coron has developed a language of storytelling by papercutting multi-layered stories. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
(Applause)
00:18
(Applause)
00:32
I am a papercutter.
00:42
(Laughter)
00:45
I cut stories.
00:47
So my process is very straightforward.
00:50
I take a piece of paper,
00:53
I visualize my story,
00:55
sometimes I sketch, sometimes I don't.
00:58
And as my image
01:01
is already inside the paper,
01:03
I just have to remove
01:06
what's not from that story.
01:08
So I didn't come to papercutting
01:11
in a straight line.
01:14
In fact,
01:16
I see it more as a spiral.
01:18
I was not born
01:20
with a blade in my hand.
01:22
And I don't remember papercutting as a child.
01:25
As a teenager,
01:28
I was sketching, drawing,
01:30
and I wanted to be an artist.
01:32
But I was also a rebel.
01:34
And I left everything
01:38
and went for a long series of odd jobs.
01:40
So among them,
01:44
I have been a shepherdess,
01:46
a truck driver,
01:49
a factory worker,
01:51
a cleaning lady.
01:53
I worked in tourism for one year
01:55
in Mexico,
01:57
one year in Egypt.
01:59
I moved for two years
02:02
in Taiwan.
02:04
And then I settled in New York
02:06
where I became a tour guide.
02:08
And I still worked as a tour leader,
02:10
traveled back and forth
02:13
in China, Tibet and Central Asia.
02:15
So of course, it took time, and I was nearly 40,
02:18
and I decided it's time
02:21
to start as an artist.
02:23
(Applause)
02:27
I chose papercutting
02:32
because paper is cheap,
02:34
it's light,
02:36
and you can use it
02:38
in a lot of different ways.
02:40
And I chose the language of silhouette
02:42
because graphically it's very efficient.
02:46
And it's also just getting to the essential of things.
02:49
So the word "silhouette"
02:55
comes from a minister of finance,
02:57
Etienne de Silhouette.
03:00
And he slashed so many budgets
03:03
that people said they couldn't afford
03:07
paintings anymore,
03:09
and they needed to have their portrait
03:11
"a la silhouette."
03:13
(Laughter)
03:15
So I made series of images, cuttings,
03:17
and I assembled them in portfolios.
03:23
And people told me --
03:28
like these 36 views of the Empire State building --
03:30
they told me, "You're making artist books."
03:33
So artist books have a lot of definitions.
03:37
They come in a lot of different shapes.
03:40
But to me,
03:43
they are fascinating objects
03:45
to visually narrate a story.
03:47
They can be with words
03:50
or without words.
03:52
And I have a passion
03:55
for images and for words.
03:57
I love pun
04:00
and the relation to the unconscious.
04:02
I love oddities of languages.
04:05
And everywhere I lived, I learned the languages,
04:08
but never mastered them.
04:10
So I'm always looking
04:12
for the false cognates
04:14
or identical words in different languages.
04:16
So as you can guess, my mother tongue is French.
04:19
And my daily language is English.
04:22
So I did a series of work
04:26
where it was identical words
04:28
in French and in English.
04:31
So one of these works
04:34
is the "Spelling Spider."
04:36
So the Spelling Spider
04:38
is a cousin of the spelling bee.
04:40
(Laughter)
04:43
But it's much more connected to the Web.
04:45
(Laughter)
04:48
And this spider
04:50
spins a bilingual alphabet.
04:52
So you can read "architecture active"
04:55
or "active architecture."
04:59
So this spider goes through the whole alphabet
05:02
with identical adjectives and substantives.
05:05
So if you don't know one of these languages,
05:09
it's instant learning.
05:12
And one ancient form of the book
05:16
is scrolls.
05:19
So scrolls are very convenient,
05:21
because you can create a large image
05:24
on a very small table.
05:27
So the unexpected consequences of that
05:31
is that you only see one part of your image,
05:35
so it makes a very freestyle architecture.
05:40
And I'm making all those kinds of windows.
05:44
So it's to look beyond the surface.
05:48
It's to have a look
05:51
at different worlds.
05:53
And very often I've been an outsider.
05:55
So I want to see how things work
05:57
and what's happening.
06:00
So each window
06:02
is an image
06:04
and is a world
06:06
that I often revisit.
06:08
And I revisit this world
06:10
thinking about the image
06:12
or cliché about what we want to do,
06:14
and what are the words, colloquialisms,
06:17
that we have with the expressions.
06:19
It's all if.
06:22
So what if we were living in balloon houses?
06:25
It would make a very uplifting world.
06:30
And we would leave a very low footprint on the planet.
06:34
It would be so light.
06:39
So sometimes I view from the inside,
06:42
like EgoCentriCity
06:47
and the inner circles.
06:49
Sometimes it's a global view,
06:52
to see our common roots
06:55
and how we can use them to catch dreams.
06:58
And we can use them also
07:02
as a safety net.
07:04
And my inspirations
07:06
are very eclectic.
07:09
I'm influenced by everything I read,
07:13
everything I see.
07:16
I have some stories that are humorous,
07:19
like "Dead Beats."
07:22
(Laughter)
07:25
Other ones are historical.
07:28
Here it's "CandyCity."
07:30
It's a non-sugar-coated
07:32
history of sugar.
07:34
It goes from slave trade
07:36
to over-consumption of sugar
07:39
with some sweet moments in between.
07:42
And sometimes I have an emotional response to news,
07:46
such as the 2010 Haitian earthquake.
07:49
Other times, it's not even my stories.
07:55
People tell me their lives,
07:58
their memories, their aspirations,
08:00
and I create a mindscape.
08:03
I channel their history
08:06
[so that] they have a place to go back
08:09
to look at their life and its possibilities.
08:12
I call them Freudian cities.
08:16
I cannot speak for all my images,
08:20
so I'll just go through a few of my worlds
08:22
just with the title.
08:26
"ModiCity."
08:28
"ElectriCity."
08:32
"MAD Growth on Columbus Circle."
08:37
"ReefCity."
08:45
"A Web of Time."
08:49
"Chaos City."
08:55
"Daily Battles."
09:00
"FeliCity."
09:05
"Floating Islands."
09:09
And at one point,
09:13
I had to do "The Whole Nine Yards."
09:15
So it's actually a papercut that's nine yards long.
09:18
(Laughter)
09:21
So in life and in papercutting,
09:23
everything is connected.
09:25
One story leads to another.
09:27
I was also interested
09:30
in the physicality of this format,
09:32
because you have to walk to see it.
09:34
And parallel to my cutting
09:37
is my running.
09:39
I started with small images,
09:41
I started with a few miles.
09:43
Larger images, I started to run marathons.
09:45
Then I went to run 50K, then 60K.
09:48
Then I ran 50 miles -- ultramarathons.
09:51
And I still feel I'm running,
09:56
it's just the training
09:59
to become a long-distance papercutter.
10:01
(Laughter)
10:04
And running gives me a lot of energy.
10:06
Here is a three-week papercutting marathon
10:10
at the Museum of Arts and Design
10:13
in New York City.
10:16
The result is "Hells and Heavens."
10:18
It's two panels 13 ft. high.
10:22
They were installed in the museum on two floors,
10:25
but in fact, it's a continuous image.
10:28
And I call it "Hells and Heavens"
10:30
because it's daily hells and daily heavens.
10:33
There is no border in between.
10:37
Some people are born in hells,
10:39
and against all odds, they make it to heavens.
10:41
Other people make the opposite trip.
10:44
That's the border.
10:46
You have sweatshops in hells.
10:48
You have people renting their wings in the heavens.
10:50
And then you have all those individual stories
10:53
where sometimes we even have the same action,
10:56
and the result puts you in hells or in heavens.
11:00
So the whole "Hells and Heavens"
11:05
is about free will
11:07
and determinism.
11:10
And in papercutting,
11:12
you have the drawing as the structure itself.
11:14
So you can take it off the wall.
11:18
Here it's an artist book installation
11:22
called "Identity Project."
11:25
It's not autobiographical identities.
11:28
They are more our social identities.
11:32
And then you can just walk behind them
11:36
and try them on.
11:38
So it's like the different layers
11:40
of what we are made of
11:42
and what we present to the world
11:44
as an identity.
11:46
That's another artist book project.
11:48
In fact, in the picture, you have two of them.
11:51
It's one I'm wearing
11:55
and one that's on exhibition
11:57
at the Center for Books Arts in New York City.
11:59
Why do I call it a book?
12:01
It's called "Fashion Statement,"
12:03
and there are quotes about fashion,
12:05
so you can read it,
12:07
and also,
12:09
because the definition of artist book
12:11
is very generous.
12:14
So artist books, you take them off the wall.
12:17
You take them for a walk.
12:19
You can also install them as public art.
12:21
Here it's in Scottsdale, Arizona,
12:24
and it's called "Floating Memories."
12:27
So it's regional memories,
12:30
and they are just randomly moved by the wind.
12:33
I love public art.
12:38
And I entered competitions
12:40
for a long time.
12:43
After eight years of rejection,
12:45
I was thrilled to get my first commission
12:48
with the Percent for Art in New York City.
12:51
It was for a merger station
12:54
for emergency workers and firemen.
12:57
I made an artist book
13:00
that's in stainless steel
13:03
instead of paper.
13:05
I called it "Working in the Same Direction."
13:07
But I added weathervanes on both sides
13:11
to show that they cover all directions.
13:13
With public art,
13:17
I could also make cut glass.
13:19
Here it's faceted glass in the Bronx.
13:22
And each time I make public art,
13:25
I want something that's really relevant
13:27
to the place it's installed.
13:29
So for the subway in New York,
13:31
I saw a correspondence
13:33
between riding the subway
13:36
and reading.
13:39
It is travel in time, travel on time.
13:41
And Bronx literature,
13:44
it's all about Bronx writers
13:46
and their stories.
13:48
Another glass project
13:52
is in a public library
13:54
in San Jose, California.
13:56
So I made a vegetable point of view
13:59
of the growth of San Jose.
14:02
So I started in the center
14:04
with the acorn
14:06
for the Ohlone Indian civilization.
14:08
Then I have the fruit from Europe
14:12
for the ranchers.
14:14
And then the fruit of the world for Silicon Valley today.
14:16
And it's still growing.
14:19
So the technique, it's cut,
14:21
sandblasted, etched
14:24
and printed glass into architectural glass.
14:26
And outside the library,
14:30
I wanted to make a place to cultivate your mind.
14:32
I took library material
14:36
that had fruit in their title
14:39
and I used them to make an orchard walk
14:42
with these fruits of knowledge.
14:45
I also planted the bibliotree.
14:47
So it's a tree,
14:50
and in its trunk you have the roots of languages.
14:52
And it's all about international writing systems.
14:55
And on the branches
14:59
you have library material growing.
15:01
You can also have function and form
15:05
with public art.
15:08
So in Aurora, Colorado it's a bench.
15:10
But you have a bonus with this bench.
15:12
Because if you sit a long time in summer in shorts,
15:15
you will walk away
15:18
with temporary branding of
15:20
the story element on your thighs.
15:23
(Laughter)
15:25
Another functional work,
15:30
it's in the south side of Chicago
15:32
for a subway station.
15:34
And it's called "Seeds of the Future are Planted Today."
15:36
It's a story about transformation
15:40
and connections.
15:43
So it acts as a screen
15:45
to protect the rail and the commuter,
15:47
and not to have objects falling on the rails.
15:50
To be able to change fences
15:53
and window guards into flowers,
15:56
it's fantastic.
15:59
And here I've been working for the last three years
16:01
with a South Bronx developer
16:04
to bring art to life
16:06
to low-income buildings
16:08
and affordable housing.
16:10
So each building has its own personality.
16:13
And sometimes it's about a legacy of the neighborhood,
16:16
like in Morrisania, about the jazz history.
16:20
And for other projects, like in Paris,
16:24
it's about the name of the street.
16:27
It's called Rue des Prairies -- Prairie Street.
16:29
So I brought back the rabbit,
16:32
the dragonfly,
16:34
to stay in that street.
16:36
And in 2009,
16:38
I was asked to make a poster
16:40
to be placed in the subway cars in New York City
16:43
for a year.
16:46
So that was a very captive audience.
16:48
And I wanted to give them an escape.
16:52
I created "All Around Town."
16:56
It is a papercutting,
16:59
and then after, I added color on the computer.
17:01
So I can call it techno-crafted.
17:04
And along the way,
17:07
I'm kind of making papercuttings
17:09
and adding other techniques.
17:12
But the result is always to have stories.
17:14
So the stories, they have a lot of possibilities.
17:17
They have a lot of scenarios.
17:20
I don't know the stories.
17:22
I take images from our global imagination,
17:24
from cliché, from things we are thinking about,
17:28
from history.
17:30
And everybody's a narrator,
17:32
because everybody has a story to tell.
17:34
But more important
17:37
is everybody has to make a story
17:39
to make sense of the world.
17:41
And in all these universes,
17:43
it's like imagination is the vehicle
17:45
to be transported with,
17:48
but the destination is our minds
17:50
and how we can reconnect
17:53
with the essential and with the magic.
17:55
And it's what story cutting is all about.
17:57
(Applause)
18:01

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Béatrice Coron - Papercutter artist
Béatrice Coron has developed a language of storytelling by papercutting multi-layered stories.

Why you should listen

Béatrice Coron tells stories informed by life. Her own life colors her work: after briefly studying art at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts of Lyon, and Mandarin Chinese at the Université of Lyon III, Coron experienced life with a series of odd jobs. She has been, among others, a shepherdess, truck driver, factory worker, cleaning lady and New York City tour guide. She has lived in France (her native country) , Egypt and Mexico for one year each, and China for two years. She moved to New York in 1985, where she reinvented herself as an artist.

Coron's oeuvre includes illustration, book arts, fine art and public art. She cuts her characteristic silhouette designs in paper and Tyvek. She also creates works in stone, glass, metal, rubber, stained glass and digital media. Her work has been purchased by major museum collections, such as the Metropolitan Museum, the Walker Art Center and The Getty. Her public art can be seen in subways, airport and sports facilities among others.

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