Tahir Carl Karmali was a Fall 2017 Visual Arts Resident at Pioneer Works. During his residency, he worked on PAPERwork, a series of work which is highlighted in this video filmed during Second Sundays in October 2017. The filtration process in papermaking is the core concept of Tahir Carl Karmali’s project PAPERwork, which addresses notions around borders, migration, and authenticity. Through his sound installation, featured in the video, Karmali amplifies the filtration process and turns this action into a performance. The sound collected is filtered and modified to mirror the treatment of the paper.
Christina Daniels, our Head of Residencies and Classes, chatted with Karmali to discuss his work and how PAPERwork has evolved since his residency at Pioneer Works.
Are you still working on the project you were doing in the video? I know you said you were adding a new sound component to it.
I am still working on the project because I think a lot of my life has changed over the past few years. It's an ever-evolving project, you know what I mean? There are different iterations where I feel like, OK, this particular issue is important to discuss through the medium of papermaking. Then, I will elaborate and build on the project. So basically a lot the papermaking and PAPERwork series is to do with the bureaucracy of being myself. Hopefully, that is relatable for a lot of people. One of the things that I think is really interesting about this pandemic is as an immigrant of this country, as a tax-paying immigrant of this country as well, we are not eligible for any government support even though a lot of us are freelancers and all sorts of different types of people who are put into situations and green card holders who are put into situations where they will be strapped for cash and they can't apply for… There is this sort of blockage in a way which encourages immigrants to have to go home, ya know?
I digress. I think that this project has many different iterations and different ways of putting it together. It kind of just follows my life in a bureaucratic way.
Can you speak more to the newest aspect of the audio piece?
So the audio I created at Pioneer Works was firstly an amazing experience. It was great to work with Bob Bellerue on it, and I really enjoy listening to the sound and the sound as a background when I'm making it. But it is more atmospheric than it is musical. When I started to listen to the sound and how heavy the sound kind of became, I started to hear these little melodic bits and pieces of musical elements that I could sample. I was interested in sampling my own papermaking process and re-editing that into something more palatable for the viewer versus listening to the entire noise track. So taking noise is kind of really interesting because it mirrors the papermaking process. It's like, Oh, I am taking all this mess of noise and everything and filtering that and then reconstructing that as something more palatable. Because paper, you know, the process is a big vat of pulped paper… no form or structure whatsoever other than the container that it's in. Then, you kind of filter out the good bits, and you conform it to the rectangular shape. Then that becomes portable and more palatable for the viewer to understand. That's what I really wanted to do and what I'm still working on. It's really hard making music from noise. I have almost made 15 different tracks that a lot of them failed. It feels like a lot of the beginning of when I was making sheets of paper, and hopefully, I will be done in the next year or two, so that there will be a full 12 track album.
So two questions, how do you know when something is done, holistically? And zoning in, how do you know what is the final product of a song?
I think that the final product of the track would be… I think it's very similar to my approach to composition with the papermaking because that's also kind of like a sampling of things. I'm taking different pieces of bureaucratic information, and I'm taking it and putting it into the sheet of paper. I think it's what works really well is less is more for this in particular. So things that start to be more ambient, when I am able to listen to a track, and then when my mind drifts away from listening to it is when I know it's done.
My goal is to create music that makes your mind drift away, so it becomes contemplative.
Or like a background sound.
Background sound! To go back, I know you'll be done with this project in a year and a half or two years, will you just know [it's done] when it's less in the forefront of your mind and more of the background? Is that the same?
Yeah! I feel like there's always weird opportunities that the PAPERwork series kind of appears throughout my life. I really haven't stopped working on it. Even though right now, within this COVID environment, making sound is a lot easier than actually making paper because I can't go to my studio. But I have become sort of open to seeing where the PAPERwork series can actually appear. I like how because of my relationship to the medium of paper I can create things that really push the medium to a point where it's like...paper encrusted mosquito nets with traces of rust draping over a tree. I can make stuff that is absurd but using paper.
Do you have any ending thoughts on how we can think of things outside of [their original context]?
A lot of the work lives through. It's surprising that over the four years that I've been working on the PAPERwork series that it still has—in a way it's designed like this—that it still has resonance and it still has application. Compared to a lot of my other projects, I think that PAPERwork is something that I'm always happy to go back to.