Contemporary Archeology

Somehow I always understood the concept of surface. From when I was very young and could hold in my hands a brush and pencil, surface for me has always meant drawing, and drawing meant being happy. As a kid I hunted down every single piece of paper and every scrap receipt,  and in my hand they became something else. In my mind, surface and paper were one and of the same: a bi-dimensional starting point for something way more important. Through time surface expanded and became deeper as it acquired new meanings, new depths, new shades, and new thicknesses. Surface was no longer just the flat, bi-dimensional sheet of paper I was drawing on. It became physical, it was everywhere and was everything that surrounded me. It was material to study, to interpret and to manipulate. Surface gradually became less obvious and more mysterious. Sometimes impenetrable. I understood that the concept of surface is more complex than what it may seem at first: it’s not just the skin you quickly peel with your eyes, but the result of what lies deep down underneath. Surface silently records time passing, mutations that occur, and transformations taking place.  It registers things that have happened and encompasses dimensions you may not see, conceive or comprehend. 

Thermal paper is the focus of this project as it represents surface in its faceted nature, mysterious and full of contradictions. It is candid and immaculate as it is also ephemeral and delicate, artificial and deceitful, all in one.

Thermal paper is a special fine paper that is coated with chemicals that change color when exposed to heat. These complex chains of chemical reactions taking place beyond the surface make it a very technical paper, but also very delicate: an open heat source such as flame, can discolour the paper, a fingernail swiped quickly across the paper will also generate enough heat from friction to produce a mark. Used in thermal printers and particularly in inexpensive or lightweight devices such as adding machines, cash registers and credit card terminals, thermal paper has been invented, and evolved to be a substitute to traditional paper in many different purposes, even today. From the outside you cannot tell the difference between thermal and normal paper. It has never been really used for its expressive potential, and among the rows  and columns of numbers and data printed on its surface, there is no trace of the multitude of happenings taking place right right before your eyes.

‘Depth must be hidden', they say.

My intervention is a collection of illustrations presented to visualise the history of thermal paper: a visual and tactile voyage, in a never-ending dialogue between paper, the artificial world and the human touch, in a new unexplored way. The thermal surface of this paper becomes, at the same time, medium and topic of each illustration, gradually unveiling a new expressive and aesthetic potential. In none of the pieces is ink added to the paper, it appears simply as the chemical reactions taking place are revealed within the paper itself, a visual representation of the material's hidden depths.

‘Depth must be hidden. Where? On the surface.’

Going one step further I wanted to give a new interpretation of this material, unveiling the great richness of hidden possibilities, beyond what we normally experience. We are in an age of complexity and multiformity, in which things are never simply the way they seem to appear. Today man is in a new position, walking in multiple directions at the same time: he is creating his path into the future while looking back to what he has created, giving new meaning to it along the way. 
In this Contemporary Archeology, he is revealing its past as well as reinventing it, day by day.

I'm interested in the power of man as a new machine, connecting post-technology with the unlimited possibilities of his mind and his hands, capable of adding humanity to influence what is going to come next. 
Thermal paper has been developed for the industry, and in itself is very technical. But it can also be very human. 
Unlike normal paper, it reacts, it doesn’t simply accept change as normal paper does. Taking to the extremes the limits of this material, new inner possibilities grow from this brand new encounter with the human touch. This new use of thermal paper stands as a new conception of the surface: no longer simply the container of messages or emotions but the significant space of action for building new possibilities. 

Cutting and pasting many different scrap cutouts of thermal paper, sampling gestures and techniques, each fragment becomes particle of a big new surface: tactile, real and abstract at the same time. Result and new beginning. Consequence, limit and potential. 
Many different surfaces, each one with a different story, features and aesthetics, combined together to create one single paper surface, to unveil its skin and visualise its nature: 

‘Depth must not be hidden.’

Worthless leftovers of receipt-paper are taken to a whole new level, handcrafted and selected carefully, arranged one by one, one piece at the time with patience and care. It is a visual investigation of the potential evolution of a very contemporary scrap material, used as a medium for visual expression, taken out of its context to reveal its nature in a brand-new and unconventional way. It is a single story made of many smaller stories.  Thermal paper re-inventing itself, visualizing the potential that lies in its depth, beyond the surface.

Francesco Zorzi Contemporary Archaeology / Image by Ronald Smith