A1 – One Attempt of Failure

Folding and Unfolding – a human gesture

We tend to repeat and follow certain patterns, not knowing when to re-direct our attention and whether to follow through to a bitter end. What seems to be clear and complete turns into loss and fragmentation.

This performative work is trying to address failure and success as part of creation. It questions the concept of painting as a mere image to hanging on a wall, or as a process itself equally important.  

Folding as process,
Folding as thinking,
Unfolding as knowledge


Skin is a vulnerable material, but it is also a highly sensual and responsive elements in our life. Though folding and unfolding delicate wet paper sheets reminding of skin, I will feel and response to repetitive actions till a result will occur. A result that can be of any kind, emotional, cognitive, material, pictorial. In failing to repeat endlessly, the material itself dictates my painterly expression through leaving traces of paint and marks (pigments and water). The part of my assignment will eventually lead towards chaos, fragmentation, total failure and disaster, or towards meaningful painterly expression.


Development of work

Some work I did in parallel related to ground and spatial expansion of the ground through re-shaping a flat paper sheet with charcoal and water into a ball and then to unfold it unto another support, glued with acrylic adhesive.



Paper support, pigments, water spray, video recording, still camera, light


Folding, rolling, unfolding, shuffling

SJSchaffeld (c)2017 - Paper ground in space #1

Fig.1: SJSchaffeld (c)2017 – Paper ground in space #1

Based on this approach and with my experience from this part on gesture, body movement alongside  a further interrogation of ground, figure, and process, I started to explore this idea further.

With a surface as ground and three paper sheets, wetted, and with addition of color to make the traces visible. I decided to go for multiple sheets compared to Fig. 1 hoping by that to see new perspectives unfolding, new opportunities, and possibly new image-traces.

I wetted three sheets of paper.  Without thinking over it and more intuitively I added charcoal powder on the first, pigment on the second, and ink on the third one (Fig. 2).

As a result of the process and my gestures and body movement, similar to my previous exercise work ‘Washboard (laundry)‘ I obtained two ‘pictures’ : the ground with indexical traces of my gestures of rolling the paper ball around and over the surface (Fig. 3), and the ball itself, kind of compacted skin mass. I followed my previous ideas und unfolded that ball into its fragments and made on another support a collage from it. Not concerned about any meaning, but shuffling around till I find a pleasing result without spending too much time on it (Fig. 4). This action of shuffling could be considered as a painterly gesture – an abstract search in space and time.


SJSchaffeld (c)2018 - Paper ground in space #2

Fig. 4: SJSchaffeld (c)2018 – Paper ground in space #2

(a close up view available at: click here

Where to go from here?

Aspects I like:

  • folding and unfolding
  • my interaction as gesture 
  • the extension of flatness in space
  • the automatic color (paint) extension
  • the aesthetical appealing result (final work)
  • the performative elements in creation
  • the relationship between my indexical presence (the ground) and the resulting collage (figure)
  • the sheet of paper reminding me of skin tissue, that I can relate partly back to my work with the plastic sheet in my work ‚washboard (laundry)‘ 

I continued to experiment in a more ‚structured‘ – or better say planned – approach my interaction with the sheet of paper, and keeping above mentioned aspects in my mind.

Folding and unfolding sheets of paper:

Tools: three paper sheets, ink, support, acrylic spray, still camera

Action: folding, unfolding 

I worked on a hard paper support similar to Fig. 2 that would record my gestural hand movements through the applied paint and folding/unfolding process. The results of unfolded skin-sheets (click on image to see larger in lightbox)

The folding – unfolding approach went through repetitive cycles of first folding the the first sheet of paper, followed by folding the second sheet of paper around the the first folder one, and last the same with the third sheet. Each sheet was colored with a different ink, reflecting on my intention to be able to discern each of the three sheets and the marks left on the ground and on the sheets.  (see Fig. 5: WIP – folding – three sheets and paint, sheets and ground approx 70 x 50 cm each)

After several rounds I thought I understood the procedure, being concerned that further folding and unfolding would destroy the sheets and thus moved into a different direction. Using the painted sheets, skin like, as the index of my gestural painting and to present them individually as a painting in itself.

Here the results of the process:

  • Fig  6: working ground with some fragments, intentionally placed (paper, approx. 50 x 70 cm)
  • Fig. 7 – 9: various sheets (hand cut) glued onto plastic foil (collage, ink, 33 x 46 cm)
  • Fig. 10 :  two sheets (hand cut) on acrylic ground (collage, acrylic paint, ink, paper,  130 x 70 cm)



What happened? 

I started with a structured and repetitive gesture of folding and unfolding. Perhaps I was conscious not to fail but to produce some kind of results. Results that might appear as pictures? I played with different options (collage on painted background, collage on working ground, and plastic support for transparency). I was intrigued by the luminosity and my gesture and intend of repetitive performative painting was changed to a pictorial articulation of ‚beautiful‘ colors.

Moving from here – repetition towards failure:

The idea that the ground as working space can be seen as a different work or painting became visible through using ‘ground’ aka paper as my tools. My transitive action of folding and unfolding applied with and to my tools, the temporal activity leaving traces on the working ground. I can discern multiple layers of painting, and a blurred distinction between tool, paint, and support (ground). I felt this idea quite intriguing – against a traditional notion of painting as copying a retinal image with paint onto a support, with the paintbrush as the tool in manipulating paint into a resemblance of something. Here my tools are becoming the painting, my performance is the painting, and any semblances of resulting pictures are nothing else than an index of making.

I decided to focus more on my gestural ‘folding and unfolding’ sheets of paper. Also to push my performative repetition. How often would I be able to fold and unfold? How meaningful could my Sisyphean approach become? What would end my actions? How would I feel during and after? How would this impact my approach to painting, what painting is, and what performance could be? And would it end into total failure, or a failure that could be seen as success? 


paper sheets, pigments, support, acrylic spray, video camera, still camera

I decided to change from ink to pigments, thinking it would make not only different markings but possibly be more 


folding, unfolding, spraying

I recorded my performative painting with a video camera, and at some moments with a still camera. Handling the latter was quite messy, as my fingers were dirty and the change of making and taking pictures disruptive. 

During each stage I sprayed water onto the sheets in order to get the pigments solved, to moist the sheets, to make them more fragile? At times I sprayed acrylic paint onto the surface, intuitively, not knowing why, felt excited to do so.

Performative painting:

Folding as process,
Folding as thinking,
Unfolding as knowledge

How to record and document a process of not knowing what will happen? How to install the camera to capture process as well as key images? I decided to install a video camera on the side and to take with a still camera from time to time full size images.

The following two videos are showing a fast motion video of the making, the second moving still images capturing the five rounds until destruction, failure to fold further.

  • Folding and Unfolding – Five Rounds to failure  (video documentation of process, 2:53min):


  • five step approach – a sequence of still images (0.58 min):

A question related to figure and ground occurs to me: What is here the ground and what the figure? The support or the sheets? I considered the sheets as my tools, and the support as my working space. The painting traditionally being able to differentiate figures from a blank ground. 

What happened? 

At the beginning I was very enthusiastic to fold, add paint, unfold and repeat that cycle. I was curious to see how ti all will evolve. But also uncertain, with a feeling that the sheets will eventually break apart by the water sprayed? I was conscious, perhaps self-conscious to move faster. Some shorter breaks in between to breathe, and refresh. Over time I felt exhausted. The repetition as such was intense. Smaller movements, and each time harder to do. The sheets became fragile, unfolding more difficult, and eventually not possible any longer. Pieces, fragments went off, or stuck to another sheet. The folded pack had an integrity in itself, but the unfolded sheets not. I noticed also that unfolding took more space, exceeding the working space, making me uncertain what belongs where. I thought that it will all lead towards disaster. One the one hand I had to more attentive of my actions to keep moving, on the other hand it was quite intense and mentally challenging.

I found that the differentiation between ground and figure gets really blurred.

Continuation in desperation – Fragmented results:


Memory – as process of fragmentation

I tried to recombine the broken pieces, fragments of my painting process with ‚skin‘ aka paper sheets. As the integrity of the sheets were destroyed I was seeking for a new articulation, kind of rebirth as a painting through collage. As before I prepared a black background on paper (this time oil paint, mixed with red, blue, grey and black) and placed the fragments of one of the three original sheets onto it. I looked for the largest pieces and placed them randomly onto the surface (Fig. 11)

  • Keeping Aside (collage, oil paint, pigment, paper, 150 x 70 cm)


Stefan513593 - Assignment 1 - folding#2 - Fragments #1

Fig. 11: collage, oil paint, pigment, paper (150 x 70 cm)

The background is loosely painted with gestural strokes. The final image reminds me of Jean Dubuffet ‚Assemblages‘, less organized perhaps. Why did I do that? I felt a desire to overcome the ‚failure’ of the process and to reconcile my efforts. Also I didn’t want to waste material, felt even the fragments too precious to waste. I enjoyed the expansion into another direction, a deviation from my initial folding – unfolding. Would it possible to discern some figures from the new creation? I am intrigued by the notion of creation as such, not as resemblance or copy, just as affirmation of gesture.

One sheet (the center, most interact one) was less fragmented. I placed these fragments onto another support, trying to combine it back into one sheet, like a puzzle or some archeology restoration work. Not really successful in getting there with some pieces not clear where they belong, or whether they belong at all to that one sheet. Neverthesless, I felt some intimacy wir that process and the marks left rather automatically through my folding and unfolding gestures. It reminds of leaves on the ground in Fall. A mix of sharp and feathered edges.

One sheet (the center, most interact one) was less fragmented. I placed these fragments onto another support, trying to combine it back into one sheet, like a puzzle or some archeology restoration work (Fig. 11). Not really successful in getting there with some pieces not clear where they belong, or whether they belong at all to that one sheet. Or already to another sheet? Nevertheless, I felt some intimacy the marks I left rather automatically through my folding and unfolding gestures. It reminds of leaves on the ground in Fall. A mix of sharp and feathered edges. 

  • The Puzzle of Gesture (collage, 50 x 70 cm)
Stefan513593 - Assignment 1 - folding#2 - Fragments #2

Fig. 12: collage, paper (approx .50 x 70 cm)

The question related to figure and ground: What is here the ground? And what are the spaces in between? It seems the one sheet of paper cannot be brought back. Reminds me of lost or fragmented memories in life. One tries hard to bring the ‘story’ aka the one sheet together, but fails – pieces are missing and pieces from other ‘stories’ aka other sheet are blended into it.

Continuation in aspiration – Re-construction:

There were some fragments left and I was undecided what to do with them. Some fragments had some anthromorphic appearance. Eventually, I became playful and layed them down on another sheet of paper, building pictorial scenes between abstraction and figurative or constructed landscapes (Fig. 13 – 16)
(Click on images to open in larger lightbox view)

  • Memories (collage, 36 x 48 cm)


..and perhaps clearer in what I saw while making – sketchbook amended images:


What opens the question how much ambiguity or how certain an image should be? What to leave to the viewer to discern and what to present as the artist’s idea?

Last not least, the working ground, an  indexical painting, evidence of my interaction with my tools (paper) and paint (Fig. 17)

  • What is Left Behind (acrylic, pigment, charcoal, 50 x 70 cm)

Fig. 17: What is left behind

The question related to figure and ground: What is here the figure?


What is my assignment? The brief stated to ‘develop a series of pieces’.  Well there was a series of pieces coming out of the process, some pictorial images that could be hanged on the wall, video as process documentation that could be considered as a stand-alone piece, and fragments as left-over, as waste of the process. Are those part of the process or/and an assembly of pieces or a piece of assemblages?

Overall, I can discern three distinctive areas of ‘paintings’ or works reflection on the steps I went through the work:

    1. Performative painting:
      – Folding and Unfolding – Five Rounds to Failure, a performative painting as documentation (video) 
    2. Continuation in desperation – Fragmented results:
      – Keeping Aside (collage, oil paint, pigment, paper, 150 x 70 cm) 
      -The Puzzle of Gesture (collage, 50 x 70 cm)
    3. Continuation in aspiration – Re-construction:
      – Memories (collage, 36 x 48 cm)

My task was to repeat and to response. Not knowing how it will evolve, I was most certain, that it will come to an end through destruction of the paper sheets. Succeeding in that intention, the result could be still seen as failure, as failure to re-direct my attention where the material possibly would have asked me for.

I am not so satisfied with my moving images and recording. Stuck between still images taken more or less regularly (what a mess to take a photo with dirty fingers) and video recording at oblique angles. Actually, I still don’t know how to overcome this. How could I produce a documentation of my performative painting in a way that gets my sensation across to the viewer?

During the making, I became aware how much my thoughts appearing in response to my doing, my feeling, my bodily awareness do impact the following steps or contextual associations. My emotional and physical interaction with the material, my folding and unfolding, opens a psychological consciousness of how we appreciate small but intense work, at home, in places concealed from the surface. I also made me aware of how easily I, and possibly we in society at large, get sidetracked and deviate from initial tasks as they become ‘boring’ or will deliver results not appreciated by others.

The notion of fragmentation is truly inspiring for me. Through my repetitive performative work I created literally fragments of formerly whole sheets. My intervention, water, repetition turned it into fragments – at the end not distinguishable. 

I can relate to the materiality also in the sense of memory. The paper material absorbs traces of folding and reveals them through unfolding, the fragmentation could then be related to fragmented memories, or loss of memory. My efforts to re-combine the fragments into a whole could be seen as a failure as well.

I titled this work process as ‘One Attempt of Failure‘ . I failed to repeat endlessly the folding, un-folding sequence, I failed to re-combine one whole sheet. I failed to push me through and to stop when I failed. I continued through desperation and aspiration to work with the results of failure, the fragments left behind, the evidence of doing, the proof of failure. Did I fail at all? I got new insights, new experiences, and eventually could relate the material fragmentation with memory fragmentation,  and with possible extended meaning not thought of. Did failure turned into success now? An open question – I leave it to the viewer to further reflect on it.

I can relate part of it (the hidden process, work of what is not visible) to the photography work by Kate Aston, who currently works on ‘house fairies’ (her blog post). 

During my, quite off the tangent, work on amending the fragments in my sketchbook, I was wondering once again about ambiguity versus clarity, leaving space to the viewer to engage and add own experiences versus transporting my ideas.

During the process of visual reflection and documentation I printed out all still images as thumbnails from the second video and glued them together to go into my sketchbook. This made me aware of flipbooks as a tactile user experience (in tradition of Victorian philosophical toys) instead of watching a flat screened video.

An open question to me how to make my three step experience part of my presentation? 

Key learnings:

  • The process of going through repetitive actions, obviously not shaped for success, are an intense emotional experience that can open up wider contextual relevance.
  • The Sisyphean task leading toward failure, the incapability of endless repetition, can result eventually into a positive learning and experience of deeper insight.
  • Figure & ground paradigm gets blurred through transferring 
  • Fragmentation: Various meanings could be associated with fragments. My performative painting visualised the fragmentation visually, the viewer can build on that with her/his own experience.
  • Memory: Through the action of folding and unfolding traces and marks are embedded in the material, memorised. Unfolding makes those visible, repetition and time disintegrates
  • Disruption: Taking still images with a camera while painting has a sense of disruption. It is a conscious break in the making, that is not only a messy thing to do but also as an impact on my making.  It is different to the break between the folding and unfolding sequence.
  • Failure: I failed to repeat endlessly, I failed to re-combine fragments back into one whole sheet, and I failed to do focus on the one main aspect of the process. Perhaps the three step process, going through was not a failure, but a success of experience and learning? Thus, Sisyphean absurdity can add value.
  • Flipbook: A way of tactile user experience, alternative to digital video. Bringing also control to the viewer.
  • Side note: head camera (Go Pro) might give me not only more freedom in recording but also some closer and embodied movement of imagery. How would the viewer of such recording response to?


Related Posts
A3 – TIME & SCREEN – Part II – mapping territory
A1 – Self-Evaluation
  • Feb 15,2018 at 6:35 PM

    Hi Stefan, I really enjoyed watching the video – the sense of transformation in the materials was quite surprising. About midpoint I could see the beautiful delicacy of the paper as it had become translucent through the process – at this point it was aesthetically pleasing. You took it so much further than pretty though and I think your work is all the better for it. I got a real sense of the effort put in and your struggle particularly towards the end – trying to prize each sheet from the next and the inevitable tears. It reminds me of Shozo Yatsumoto’s works making holes in wettened thin paper.

    • Stefan
      Feb 15,2018 at 7:29 PM

      Thank you, Sue. Glad you see the evolvement and development through the process . Yes, it went till an end where I first thought it goes towards catastrophe. Yes, The Valley of tears. Yatsumoto as some other Gutai part of research . Good to see it from that perspective. Question that keeps me going is process versus a final aesthetic ‘pleasing’ work. I think the process can make things appearing – one just need to grasp such precious moments ;-(

      • Feb 15,2018 at 8:00 PM

        I am having the same questions about materiality vs. Aesthetics – should the process dictate form – Bataille’s ideas around “Formlessness” etc. It’s sometimes difficult to let go and allow things to just be / trust the process but I think in this you’ve been really successful.

  • Feb 11,2018 at 12:31 PM

    I am amazed by how you documented your process. It is very detailed and I can very easily imagine your inner and outer experience of it. While I was reading I did think about how does one find space to document the process and do it at the same time. As you noted it feels as a disruption in the work, while it becomes part of the process as well. So would the result be the same if you did not document or would it have ended with a different result?

    I like the metaphor of the folded papers and fragments being like our own memories that are distorted and often misguide us as we fill in the gaps between the fragments with new made up content.

    • Stefan
      Feb 11,2018 at 1:40 PM

      Glad to hear that my writing gets something meaningful across. I guess that my UVC studies hellped to make some difference in my writing. A valid question you raise, what is part of the work and what not? Am I too self-conscious of thinking many surrounding items are part of it? And perhaps more practice and experience will change this? Kind the anxiety of a beginning? We had just now a discussion with various student in a hangout on self-portrait and how it could change if somebody else is taken a portrait of you (rather typical in photography) versus you doing it (rather typical as a painter, with a mirror) Questions of control, loss of control, beining watched, and possibly voyeurism

      • Feb 11,2018 at 2:09 PM

        A portrait is a good example of this as you are observing yourself in the mirror while observing yourself in the mirror that is painting oneself… spiraling 🙂

        I feel there are two levels at play: intuitive and rational. The observing belongs to the rational while the artwork belongs to the intuitive (if it is more experimental and less production). So my question is: can we fully be authentic and in touch with our intuition if we need to constantly involve our rational part that is systemizing and analysing what is happening. Is joining the two more authentic or is it preventing us in being authentic?:)

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