UnCommon Pages is an art project presented by Susan Mills. On July 19, 2014, Susan led a group to harvest Phragmites, the invasive species found at Freshkills Park, also known as the common reed. Susan transported the harvested Phragmites to Women’s Studio Workshop in Rosendale, NY to cook the plant material and remove impurities, beat with water to form a pulp from the plant fibers, then hand dip to form paper sheets. These were the cover stock for 2,000 passport-sized Field Notebooks made by workshop participants. In September 2014, Sneak ‘Peak’ visitors were invited to bind little books to take home with them, made from plants that grew in the Freshkills Park landscape.
The Freshkills Park site is in a continual phase change from landfill to park, a conceptual and physical reclamation. This project reimagines the invasive Phragmites (the common reed) as a generative material, and with that, is a form of recycled art. Rather than introducing new materials to express recycling or upcycling, this project uses plants that are now growing on site naturally, looking to the future of the land and expressing the possibilities in renewal.
UnCommon Pages builds on Susan’s work with ruderal plants, including twentysix plants (2013) and Ruderal Plants in Manhattan (1995), which were both produced during residencies at Women’s Studio Workshop (WSW). Ruderal plants are those which first inhabit disturbed or destroyed landscapes, and Susan’s books explore “plants that live on edges and in cracks” of New York’s steel and concrete. Incorporating handmade papers of abaca, dandelion, and burdock, Ruderal Plants in Manhattan can be seen as twentysix plants’s material precursor. All the fibers used for twentysix plants were grown and harvested at the WSW ArtFarm or foraged in the surrounding areas.
The product, field notebooks, can be used on other occasions at the Park, whether visitors are hiking, kite flying, biking, or learning about the environmental restoration.
Susan Mills is an artist who works entirely in handbound artist-book form. With 25 years of experience organizing and teaching bookmaking classes in institutional and alternative settings, thousands of people have learned to make their own books by her instruction. Susan’s teaching practice is fully integrated with her artistic production. She focuses on working collaboratively to produce large handbound editions and teaching large groups of people to bind books of all sizes with several different techniques. She runs Full Tilt Bookbinding, a series of intensive single-session bookbinding classes in New York City, and teaches at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, the Cooper Union Continuing Education, and the Center for Book Arts. She also created a biweekly community-based podcast, Bookbinding Now. Read more about Susan’s work on our blog.
Read more about invasive species at Freshkills Park in this handy guide and infographic (designed by Fern Lan Siew).
This project is made possible through support from The Staten Island Foundation, the College Book Arts Association, Talas, and Mohawk.
Limited edition books made by Susan Mills are available for purchase at Printed Matter.