The human condition is a confounding thing. At the outset of a life-threatening outbreak, no philosopher or artist could have predicted that the huddled and panicking masses would respond by hoarding tons of toilet paper.
There is much to unpack here. Americans hoard tissue like they're stocking nuclear bunkers but aren't hip to bidet usage. Most friends I know are sane enough to prioritize rubbing alcohol, but I've seen people in my local supermarket stuffing their shopping carts with an absurd amount of Sanicare. What a world we live in—the price of oil is negative, and toilet paper is the most sought after commodity.
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As if to mock the hoarders, Paper Panic arose. Run by artist Mark Salvatus, Paper Panic is an Instagram account and online exhibition that collates and puts out user-submitted art made from toilet paper. Conceptually, Paper Panic seems to rail against the utilitarian purpose of toilet paper by celebrating the ways folks turn such a product into art objects with no hygienic function.
The very first post of Paper Panic is dated March 11, and shows a roll of toilet paper stamped with Louis Vuitton print and other brands. From there the art gets more wacky. Illustrations, sculptures, and even video-recorded spotlight are featured. My personal favorite is "Home garden" by Atsuko Yamagata, which shows herbs and uncooked spaghetti strands sticking out from a tissue roll, held between sheets.
The premise of the project is irreverent. Some might balk at the point of Paper Panic, and how flippantly artists treat tissue paper as just another medium. At the same time, Paper Panic throws into interrogation how we treat commodities at all. Isn't it more of a waste, a sign of disrespect, for hoarders to grab all the toilet paper on grocery shelves, on the misguided hope that buying stuff like a doomsday prepper is what will protect them from COVID-19?
Shouldn’t righteous blame be placed instead on the institutions and mechanisms that are failing to provide people all over the country with essential products like food and toiletries? Speaking of food, check out this toilet paper painted to look like cabbage.
My personal contention with Paper Panic is that an artistic endeavor like this seems a tad wasteful. Paper is paper, waste is waste. But considering every gigantic art installation ever crafted from plastic or scrap metal, the little creations showcased on Paper Panic can hardly be considered major pollutants. Besides, I’m willing to bet that those of us going stir-crazy in our houses are missing a time when we could actually go to art galleries. For now, this virtual exhibit will have to do. And if you’ve got an issue—here’s a tissue.
You can visit Paper Panic here.