Using a technique known as quilling or paper filigree, artist Lisa Nilsson constructs detailed anatomical cross-sections of the human body. In quilling, narrow strips of paper are rolled and shaped with a slender pick-like tool. Quilling was first practiced by Renaissance nuns and monks who would coil and shape gold-gilded paper remnants discarded from the bookmaking process. The gold-gilded rolls were then used for decorating religious objects.
For her Tissue Series, Nilsson prefers to work with Japanese mulberry paper for its strength, flexibility, and the colors available. But, like the Renaissance nuns and monks, she also sometimes uses gilded paper cut from the edges of book pages. Depending on the desired effect, Nilsson rolls the paper on almost anything small and cylindrical including pins, needles, dowels, and drill bits. Each piece takes several weeks to assemble and begins with an actual photograph of a lateral or mid-sagittal cross section. The finished quilled pieces are mounted inside silk covered, wooden boxes the artist makes herself. Nilsson explains, “I find quilling exquisitely satisfying for rendering the densely squished and lovely internal landscape of the human body in cross section.”