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28/7/2017 / Issue #013 / Text: Poisson

Copy / Paste The Message - a Monument Paper for Paperless

Amsterdam is an endless reservoir of images. Shops, shirts, posters, ads, logos, galleries commercials, messages, billboards and showrooms turn our direct visual environement into a gigantic party of colours, signs and lights. Despite its history of illegal poster pasting and graffiti culture, 21st century Amsterdam trades its libertarian legacy for a way more lucrative and docile attitude; that of domesticated and merchandized images. Yet in the midst of this smooth visual background  a few strange and somewhat untamed images do appear from time to time, making their way to our eyes and minds.

This is what happenned to me with the printed faces of Monument Paper for Paperless. This might have happen to you as well, as the posters created by this mysterious group of copy/pasters have popped up in several locations of Amsterdam since the beginning of 2017, randomly on the city streets or in cultural venues. A2 recycled paper, strongly glued to the surface, powerful faces and this intriguing text: a Monument Paper for Paperless.

Quickly, graphical fascination turns into curiosity. What stands behind these portraits? “Paperless”; indeed, those foreign faces seems to resonate with refugee matters. However, they don’t rely on the usual rhetoric of pro-refugee activism: nothing is claimed, nobody’s pointed, no clear criticism appears. Those faces remains silent, anonymous, alone and helpless in front of our judgment; they don’t seem to preach any cause except the singular humanity that lies in those looks, those lines. The pasted black & white engraved portrays suddenly appear like an silent call for freedom of expression, human rights, respect and reappropriation of our urban environment.

A few months later, I meet Domenique Himmelsbach De Vries in his tiny garage-like atelier, stuck between a gentrifying neighborhood in Amsterdam Noord and the NDSM Warf canal. Dominique initiated the Monument Paper for Paperless three years ago from a series of art workshops held with refugees. With the support of collective Wij Zijn Hier (We Are Here) that helps refugees in various locations of Amsterdam (Vluchtmaat, Vluchtkerk, Notweg), he organized drawing and woodcut printing sessions with resident asylum seekers. From an independent idea to a large scale printing, what has been the history of this project?

To begin with, by portraying each other, the group of migrants slowly gets familiar with this very unique printing technique. Despite its playful aspect and its powerful graphic results, a central question remains: what’s in it for the participants? They are facing the daily fear of being stopped, arrested and sent back to their country. Drawing might be a relaxing and relieving activity for some, but asylum seekers are going through a much different experience. Being aware of this, Domenique invites several professional artists to join the project. The art class begins to turn into a proper art project with the objective of teaching and learning of a new form of language, including the relevant printing techniques, as a process of searching for an identity through black and white, through lines and surfaces. Suddenly, the simple drawing lesson becomes a social experiment.

The roots of such an initiation to this medium, Domenique founds it in his very personal relationship to making & organizing people around artistic strategies. Back in 2002, he participated in the instalation of several autonomous squats in the area of Zwolle (NL). At the time, the internet wasn’t yet as ubiquitous as it is today so these places relied a lot on prints & pasting. For these venues, flyposting was a way of communicating by occupying (visual) public space. Unfortunately, this form of visual subversion has all but disappeared. Voices that rose against the establishment rather chose new ways for their communication: costless & fast. Internet turned messages on concrete walls to messages on digital walls. But the ‘monument paper’ that Domenique wants to build would be rather tangible, touchable and physical.

Within a few months, the group produced dozens of engraved portrays made by both professional artists and refugees. They now had enough material to get back to this old medium of expression: taking over the streets with paper. In order to increase the campaign reach, the group finally agrees to apply at the EU-sponsored program Europe by People which finances the printing of thousands of copies. During the official festivities of the Dutch EU presidency in 2016, the Amsterdam Marine Base is covered with Monument Paper faces.

Paper Monument for Paperless is an open-source campaign aiming to aesthetically raise the public’s awareness of the existence of illegal immigrants on our soil. The posters act as reminders, similar to a monument boasting the courage of our ancestors. The difference here, of course, is that the message is not belligerent or moralistic. This is just an image. A picture as the testimony of an encounter; an encounter between an illustrater and a model, between two bodies and minds foreign to each other

If you want more info or get a set of posters, contact Monument Paper for Paperless at