Folger Shakespeare Library presents newly commissioned light and paper sculpture ‘Cloud of Imagination’ by German artist Anke Neumann
Press release: October 5, 2023 — Washington, DC
When the Folger Theatre begins performances of The Winter’s Tale on November 4, ticket holders will be greeted by Anke’s Neumann’s ethereal and symbolic 15-foot-tall hanging sculpture. Cloud of Imagination was installed in August 2023 at the Folger Shakespeare Library and connects the newly constructed east lobby to the historic theater lobby above. The work is one of three commissions by contemporary artists being integrated into the Folger’s expanded and renovated spaces, and the first to be fully activated for the public.
Cloud of Imagination is composed of 250 individual handmade paper components, each lit from within by optical fibers that trace the contours of the softly cascading forms. To create the paper components, Neumann made a flax-based paper that pays homage to what would have been used in many of the 16th and 17th century books in the Folger’s collection. Each bundle of optical fibers was layered between two sheets of wet paper and placed in small molds. The tension between the optical fibers and the paper, which shrunk as it dried, created the dimensionality of the components. Suspended together from the ceiling using a specially devised mount, the forms appear to float as if held together by magic.
“Anke’s art encapsulates our work and our mission in a poetic way that will resonate with everyone who enters our building. We wanted a work made of paper, given that it is a material of primary importance to the Folger, but we also wanted something that would create a sense of enlightenment and elevation. Those who encounter it experience its lift and illumination,” said Folger Director Michael Witmore.
This is Neumann’s first work in a U.S. cultural institution, and her collaboration with the Folger was set in motion while she was installing sculptures at hotel properties in the DC region. She is a former student and studio assistant of Gangolf Ulbricht, who specializes in handmade paper and book restoration. Ulbricht has collaborated with the Folger’s conservation laboratory on numerous occasions, and he recommended that Folger staff see Neumann’s work. For the commission, Neumann was asked to create a work that would support the Folger as it dynamically brings new perspectives to bear on Shakespeare and the early modern world.
“It is a powerful thing to have a contemporary artist pose questions about Shakespeare and the early modern world from a different angle. With each artist commission in our reimagined building, we have the opportunity to restate the value of Shakespeare and the humanities,” Witmore said.
In addition to Neumann’s sculpture, US Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winner Rita Dove has written a new poem that will be inscribed on the wall along the west garden path, welcoming and centering visitors as they approach the new entrance along 2nd and East Capitol streets. Renowned artist Fred Wilson, known for reframing cultural symbols in ways that encourage viewers to reconsider social, racial, and historical narratives, is creating a piece that will recontextualize the Folger’s 1579 “Sieve” portrait of Queen Elizabeth I in the new Shakespeare Exhibition Hall.
While the renovation work will not be completed until 2024, Folger Theatre will return to its home stage after three years on the road with a production of The Winter’s Tale beginning on November 4. The Folger will announce its grand reopening date before the end of 2023.
About Anke Neumann
Born in 1970, Anke Neumann was enthusiastic about all forms of nature from an early age. Anke grew up studying drawing and the fine arts, in the former industrial city Karl-Max-Stadt (now Chemnitz) and this has influenced her sense of the technical. Anke’s training as a skilled worker in textiles technology and spinning (1986-1989), in addition to various internships at art and crafts establishments in Berlin, created the basis for the subsequent study of the surface, and textile design at the art academy Weissensee (1998-2003). A series of experiments in paper making inspired Anke to undertake practical training and provide assistance in the paper workshop Gangolf Ulbricht, Berlin. The ability to produce large format papers gave inspiration to interior surface installations.
The idea to bring light into paper resulted in incandescent lamps between two paper layers. A wider exploration of light-conducting materials and sources of light brought fibre-optics. LICHTPAPIER arose in connection with her diploma (2003). Learn more about Neumann’s practice at www.lichtpapier.de/index.html
About Folger Shakespeare Library
Folger Shakespeare Library is the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the ultimate resource for exploring Shakespeare and his world. The Folger welcomes millions of visitors online and in person. It provides unparalleled access to a huge array of resources, from original sources to modern interpretations. With the Folger, you can experience the power of performance, the wonder of exhibitions, and the excitement of path-breaking research. The Folger offers the opportunity to see and even work with early modern sources, driving discovery and transforming education for students of all ages. Learn more at folger.edu.