Mainly after a speech given at the paper-model conference in the Deutsches Schiffahrtsmuseum at Bremerhaven in april 1998

Niews and Views


BILDRUM (home)

Modelbuilding is a picturing art. Theories on representation, realism, idealism, seeing and imagination are as valid for model building as for oil painting, photography or stone carving.  I am afraid that my philosophical knowleges donīt permit me to give a lecture on post modernism. But I have understood that the copying of Nature is problematic. Most artists know that copying of Nature is on principle not possible. But many model builders still do unreflected attempts to make scaled down copies. All models, like all pieces of art, are abstractions. My interest in paper modelling has its ground in the fact that the material in it self stimulates the fantasydemanding art of making abstractions.
   But what is then a good abstraction?

Let me take some wooden models as examples. The first one is from Vitaby church in southern Sweden. Naive and not very scale true. But during the centuries, I am sure, it has created lots of fantasies in the heads of the parishioners. The next example is from the church of Fredrikshamn in Denmark. It is very scale true, but something is missing. It canīt be that it is a modern ship. Older ships in churches were all ships of their own times. It should be possible even to-day to represent a modern ship in a church. But this model is just boring. There is no life in it.
The third example is a kitschy piece of "art". Well handicrafted but more a caricature than a character-representation. The model is "over-defined". The form gives no openings for your own experiences and imaginations. A different example (by the swedish artist Ture Albert Andersson) is made out of scrap material in a way that really makes the form wide open for personal and unexpected imaginations.
The Wasa-museum this year showed an exhibition with some houndred models from the whole world of the Wasa ship. You could really go round and think much about "true" representations. Scale true, life true, feel true and what ever true you want. The one true must not necessarely exclude the other true. Wonderful is when a scale true model also is life true.
   But what is then life true? Old ship pictures may be "primitive", but when you study for example old grafitti you can see that very simplified ship representations often have found the most effective way yo characterize the living ship. The rules for picturing and for reading of pictures changes with the times. Therefore we have problems to see from rock carvings what bronze age boats really looked like. You can also realize that grafitti to-day should not represent reality but "cyber-reality". It is a mistake to believe that cyber-reality representations demand more fantasy than reality representations.
One houndred years ago there were also rather fixed forms for how to make toys as "fantasyful" representations of real things. Those toys now wake up nostalgic feelings. But of course they did not reflect the imagination resources of the children; more the grewn up peoples predjudices on what sort of fantasy was good for children.


This is a 19th century french paper torpedo boat cut-out. The french navy liked odd-looking boats, but this one is far out of reality. Donīt you believe that even children a century ago would have liked a little more scale true representations to help their fantasy?   An other french cut-out from the same time represents a quite realistic scene on the shore. It moves when you pour sand in the right place. The mechanism is very complicated and gives a very modest movement. What here is encourageing your fantasy is not the scene itself. It is the mechanism. Good for children who were to invent the airplane and the modern car.
Scandinavian children from the first half of this century have special memories of the weekly magazine Allers or Familj-journalen. From 1915 it presented one or two cut-outs every week. It could be a dolls house, a church, an airplane, a fancy scenery. The best of them were designed by the danish artist H.C.Madsen. Round 1930 he started to design cut-outs of the most famous houses in the world just to allow people to build up their own architectural museums. Together with articles in the magazine this was stimulating the fantasy to think world-wide. (Or was it just a typical manifestation of western imperialism?)
  Madsens designs are not exactly scale true. But they are splendid simplifications that give you living and astonishingly true pictures of the represented houses. So many of the best swedish engineers and artists have told that their creative lives started with the Allers cut-outs. There is a curious gap between the fact that the elite of modernism started to realize themselves with weekly magazines and the elitistic imagination that weekly magazines make people more silly.
The next step after the cut-outs was to build models from scrach. Round 1940 the interest in scale-true representations increased. But it was difficult to get good drawings. You had to make your own drawings from pictures and from looking at the real thing. And in this case you were in exactly the same position as an artist looking at a nude woman to represent in a drawing or a sculpture. You must train your seeing again and again. And you must train your imagination to find those lines and volumes that give the best, the most living or the most "true" representation. For the curious thing about representation is that the most look-alike representation of nature or a real thing cannot be just a measured and scaled down or copied one. There must be seeing, imagining, feeling, trying and seeing again. Even if you just build a model of an airplane.
  Plastic modelling has unfortunately given people the chance to get models with the "correct" shape without seeing. It is just to follow the instruction. Then comes the sickness of supering. To many plastic model builders try to build models so that you from a photo canīt see if it is nature or model. But photos are lying. In live, such models mostly look dead.
  The more exactly scale true you want to build a model, the more of imaginative seeing do you need to make the live model look life-like.
  I am afraid that also paper modelling with better and better materials could go the same way. You get more and more detailed cut-outs. The model builders just learn to put the parts correctly together. But they never learn to see and imagine.
  What we have tried in our Model Builders Academy is to open the borderlines of model building and learn from other arts. What can we as model builders learn from a baroque painters way of representing? What can we learn from a romantic sculptor or from a socialy concious documentary photographer?   
Sometimes we like to have our eyes washed by models that put everything upside down and inside out. Like the model that the swedish artist Elisabeth Westerlund built from Richard Vyskovskys cut-out of the Estates Theater in Prague and put under a glass table.



                        Gunnar Sillén