Artist Elsa Duault crouches barefoot on the floor, pouring bright pigments onto a large stretch of paper like a small, pale god creating worlds. Duault is in the throes of generating a body of work called Spectrum of Life, comprising 60 oval pieces, some sculptures, collages and photographs. Her method loosely refers to the ancient marbled paper technique known as ebri in Persia and ebru in Turkey (both meaning ‘cloud’), and the Japanese suminagashi, meaning ‘floating ink’.
But what precisely is marbled paper? Its origins are said to be as ungraspable as the instability of the process, which is shrouded in secrecy. This is partly because recipes were closely guarded, but also because marbled papers were never signed, the artist’s identity was never known. Historians indicate that the name comes from its similarity in appearance to veins in marble stone. Briefly, the technique involves floating pigment on a liquid to create a pattern. A piece of paper is then placed over the liquid to receive the patterns.