Akira Yoshizawa

Pulp Art: Origami Unfolds in the West | Asia Life | The Diplomat

Flickr (x1brett)

Last month, hundreds of paper connoisseurs descended on New York for a convention put on by OrigamiUSA, in celebration of the delicate paper arts of East Asia. The event underscores the West’s growing appreciation for this time-tested art form.

For most, origami (literally, “folding paper”, sans scissors and glue) invokes the quintessential image of a neatly creased crane. A level above this reveals models of other creatures and plants – elephants, flowers, sharks, and scaly dragons, to name a few. However, a quick look online suggests that these more conventional designs are the tip of the iceberg for the 17th century art form.

While Japan is most closely associated with the pulp arts, there is evidence that the Chinese were known to fold paper for art’s sake – as well as burn paper representations of gold nuggets (yuanbao) during funerals. Even European countries Germany, Italy and Spain have their own paper folding traditions traceable to the Moors. But Japan is where the art form really found its home.

“Origami is alive and well in Japan,” Leyla Torres of OrigamiUSA and Origami Spirit told The Diplomat. “There are origami clubs or societies in many parts of Japan.” Among them are the two main associations, the Japan Origami Academic Society (JOAS), formed to cater to the mainly younger proponents of advanced technical folding, and the Nippon Origami Association, which regularly publishes an origami magazine.

While Japan has always been the heart of origami culture, in the 20th century the art was internationalized by a cadre of trailblazers and virtuosos from both Japan and abroad who pushed origami’s boundaries and took it in exciting new directions.

Flickr (scarygami) -- 2Torres continued: “Origami is not in any sense a rare pursuit for adults in Japan. Thanks to the ease of communications and the new media, people who practice origami around the world are in constant connection and feed from each other’s work… Origami has evolved from a traditional pastime into a self-conscious art form thanks to the pioneering work of Akira Yoshizawa (Japan), today considered the father of contemporary origami.”

Alongside Yoshizawa, Torres added the names of artists from Europe and the Americas, such as Miguel de Unamuno and Vicente Solórzano (Spain), Ligia Montoya (Argentina), and Neal Elias and Fred Rohm (U.S.). She also emphasized the influence of the diagramming system co-created by Yoshizawa, Samuel Randlett and Robert Harbin.

Collectively, these artists took the simple act of shaping paper to mindboggling levels of complexity in some cases. Modern forms include no less than the following: icosahedrons; shapes that move, inflate, flap and fly; highly complex objects composed of numerous identical pieces fitted together (“modular origami”); gently curving designs made with dampened paper; miniature pieces that fit easily on a fingertip; and at the farthest end of the evolutionary spectrum, tessellations – many figures joined at the pleats, with no spaces between or overlapping parts.

Some of the most complex examples of folded paper embody what appear to be – and often are in fact – mind-bending mathematical conundrums. Technical origami has picked up where the compass and straight-edge leave off, effectively doubling the cube (solving the Delian problem) and successfully pulling off angle trisection.

Some examples of geometric madness in paper form by artist Kyla McCallum, exhibited in Glasgow this May, can be seen here. Other fantastic origami creation can be seen here, ranging from a tusked mammoth and a toilet made from a single dollar bill to a lemur and even a Minotaur.

In terms of complexity, Torres recommended checking out the works of Robert Lang (US) and Satoshi Kamiya (Japan).

Flickr (scarygami)Of his own intricate designs of moose, scorpions and sundry wildlife, Lang said: “I may spend hours or even days developing an intricate design working out the positions of all the folds, and how those folds interact, and then again hours to days to actually fold the object up.”

An abbreviated list of some other notable contemporary artists named by Torres includes Kunihiko Kasahara (Japan – watch her teach how to build a 4D origami box here), Tomoko Fuse (Japan – well known for her modular origami work), Paul Jackson (Israel), Michael LaFosse (USA), Joseph Wu (Canada), Román Díaz (Uruguay), Angel Morollón (Spain), and author Jun Maekawa (Japan).

“What is important about origami is that it reaches people at all levels of expertise all over the planet,” Torres said. “It is an art in which the final result can be complex, but it can also be the art of capturing the essence of a subject in a few simple folds. Both approaches can be very artistic.”

She added that for experts and beginners alike “the folding process is like a performance and a meditation.”

Pulp Art: Origami Unfolds in the West | Asia Life | The Diplomat.

Rethinking origami as ‘Folding Paper’ / Sacramento Press

Miri Golan’s “Two Books,” (left) and Vincent Floderer’s “Clitocybe” (right)

If you think of frogs or birds when someone mentions origami, then perhaps you need to visit the new exhibit, “Folding Paper: the Infinite Possibilities of Origami,” at the Crocker Art Museum, where you’ll see some frogs and some birds, but you’ll also see pieces created by artists from around the globe that go far beyond what’s taught in elementary school.

How about a dress that can be worn standing up, and a matching pair of shoes? Each item was created from a single sheet of parchment paper, without making any cuts. If a parchment dress isn’t to your liking, perhaps a red dress created from a more traditional dress fabric will suit you for that special evening out.

Origami inspires clothing and telescopes (Image by: David Alvarez)

What do dresses have to do with origami? Well, as this exhibit shows, the art of folding paper touches many aspects of daily life, including clothing, buildings, maps and even phone designs.

You won’t want to rush through this exhibit because the lighting is as important as each piece. Watch how the shadows play on Bernie Peyton’s “Frog on a Leaf,” which reminded me of a haiku. Move in close, to the left, to the right, then step back and see how the light shifts, allowing some parts to come forward and others to recede.

One of the most important pieces in the exhibit is Miri Golan’s “Two Books,” which have tiny people figures emerging from the Koran and the Torah. The tiny figures, which appear to be worshipping, come together in peace.

As surprising as the parchment dress is the array of materials used to create these objects. While some artists worked with traditional materials, others, like Giang Dinh, chose to use watercolor paper, as Dinh does for his piece “Fly.”

“Fly” by Giang Dinh, 2010, watercolor paper (Image by: David Alvarez)

Spheres created by artists from Poland, Japan and Germany incorporated metallic paper, ticker tape, paper tape and even copy paper, while Robert J. Lang used glassine paper for his piece, “3 7 Hyperbole Limit, Opus 600,” one of few relatively flat pieces in the exhibit.

The tiniest piece in the exhibit is a crane folded from a candy wrapper. Be sure to take time to read about Sadako Sasaki and how she came to fold this crane, if you do not already know her story.

What should you not miss? The film showing speed folding; Lang’s giclee prints of the crease patterns he used in creating “Bull Moose,” “Scorpion,” and “Red-Tailed Hawk”; the story of the impact of origami on science and industry; and the history of origami, including information about Akira Yoshizawa, who became known as Japan’s first origami fine artist.

Robert J. Lang’s “Scorpion” and “Red-Tailed Hawk” and giclee prints of crease patterns. (Image by: David Alvarez)

This exhibit, curated by Meher McArthur, opened Sunday, June 30, and runs through September 29. To complement the exhibit, the Crocker Art Museum is offering several special events for adults and children. Please visit the museum’s website for more information.

Sacramento Press / Rethinking origami as ‘Folding Paper’.