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shredded documents are art

When Do Shredded Documents Become Art?

June 10, 2016


You’ve seen the work of people who are unbelievably creative with the least appealing, everyday objects. We’re talking about those who make beautiful works of art from the plastic tabs that keep the bread bag closed; or from old bicycles; or defunct Cadillacs.

But, even if you’re in the shredding business like we are, you’d probably never think that strands of shredded corporate documents could ever become art – and especially if the shredded paper was exhibited virtually “as is”, looking almost exactly as it did when it came out of the shredder.

In East Germany in 1989, a course of events unfolded to quickly change the shape of Europe. Starting with the relaxation of border controls and the migration of thousands of East Germans, the remarkable series of events culminated with the fall of the Berlin Wall in early November, 1989.

The speed of the happenings caught the East German secret intelligence service off guard. Known as the Stasi, their agents had compiled about one billion paper reports of their spying missions on East German citizens.

Realizing that the turn of events could result in the revelation of their activities, the Stasi began shredding the massive amount of paper even before the Berlin Wall fell. They destroyed about 45 million documents before activists infiltrated their offices and stopped the destruction.

The “art” of the shredded spy agency documents is partly due to the wet shredding process they were put through. Combined with oil and water, the shredders produced cellulose paper lumps that resemble moon rocks.

Artist Daniel Knorr has assembled some of the “stones” in an exhibit called “The State of Mind” at Berlin’s Maniere Noire gallery. When he first saw them, Knorr was struck by the look of the stones and their unique history. He almost immediately imagined them in an art exhibit.

While generally grey or off-white, the stones display various colours, including blues and pinks, that come from documents of different classifications. Pink documents were issued by secret agents and the blue ones carried information about people who were being followed.

So you never know, all those pieces of paper you push through your shredder might end up as a gallery exhibit one day – especially if you run a spy agency.

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