The Living Shred



The documents of life gain new life as art

I could definitely do with storing less stuff. I’ve got boxes upon boxes of receipts filled with old income tax returns and receipts, letters, cards, magazine tears and mementos (some of which I ironically can’t remember the reasons for having). Aside from the fact that I have a vague feeling I may need them for some reason or other in the future, I’m not quite sure why I hold on to these things. After a while they do seem to lose their relevance. I’ll bring up an old letter from a former partner and think to myself, why am I keeping this, exactly?

Crush, 2008

Nava Lubelski works within that kind of context, but on a more objective, conceptual level. She takes documents such as tax receipts, rejection letters and love letters, and shreds them. Then she works them into patterned sculptures, so that the the documents takes on new forms, and can therefore be viewed in new ways. Here’s what she writes in her website:

Shredded paper sculptures, such as the Tax Files, reconfigure a mass of paper that has been grouped and saved due to written content, into slabs reminiscent of tree cross-sections where the climate of a given year, and the tree’s overall age are visible in a single slice. Historical information is revealed in the colors of deposit slips, pay stubs, receipts and tax forms. The cellular coils spiral outward, mimicking biological growth, as they are glued together into flat rounds, which suggest lichen, doilies or disease. The re-use of paper, as well as the attempted “repair” of the long-lost original tree, is an examination of feelings of despair about waste and unsustainability while simultaneously responding to the shadow impulse to hoard and keep what is no longer needed. The exercise of translating numbers back into a comprehensible, physical manifestation is also an attempt to develop a tool for managing overwhelmingly large tallies, such as those we encounter regularly in reports on war or climate change.

Crush detail, above; Rejection Letters detail, below.

Rejection Letters, 2008

1997 Tax File, 2007

1998 Tax File, 2007

And also, they look like lots and lots of sushi rolls.

But flippancy aside, Lubelski’s work allows you to think of things in ways you hadn’t thought of before, which I feel is an essential element of art. To me, stored documents are my life as it once was, hidden away in boxes under the furniture, significant only in a “past tense” sort of way. But Lubelski recycles them both physically and conceptually, so that they gain a totally new life of their own as art that may inspire new ideas in your present life.

For more of Nava Lubelski’s work, you can visit his website at

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George G., Creative Director At Large, is a New York-based art director whose work spans everything from store display to interactive media. Also an accomplished artist, his illustrations have been published and exhibited in various galleries in New York. Being a self-professed design junkie, he is constantly on the lookout for what’s new and fresh in the worlds of art and design.

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