Sunday, July 09, 2006


I’ve said a few things---maybe too much---about this on the Origami Forum, but maybe it’s time to think again about the whole subject in the more leisurely manner that a blog makes available.

Folded paper has different basic expressive tones or potentials---I mean ones that exist quite apart from the choice among various paper types. Manifestly a wet-folded model has a different look than a hard-folded one, regardless of the paper used; and it is this sort of distinction I’m interested in. In an earlier post I discussed the excessive paperiness and vulnerability that comes from leaving the cut-edge exposed—something most origami avoids, or tries to overcome. Its opposite, curved-line folding, tends to impart a greater look of solidity to paper---a clean plaster look, in the case of designers like David Huffman and Richard Sweeney; a stone or ceramic or even wooden look, in my own messier experiments. These are in a certain sense anti-paper qualities. Interestingly when Jeanine Mosely (e.g., in her Bowl) uses modular curving forms rather than continuous ones, and even alternates the colors, much of the ‘feeling of paper’ is recovered, though not all of it.

It occurs to me that the main language of origami being two-dimensional, departures from it in the direction of three-dimensionality seem startling in a positive sense, and in the direction of one-dimensionality (through exposure and reminder of the cut edge) startling in mostly a negative sense. If so, maybe modular curve-folding like Mosely’s stays closer to the ‘language of ‘2’’ by alternating its ‘3’s with ‘1’s.

Three-dimensionality is most convincingly attained through wet-folding (curving planes) or curved-line-folding; but there is also folding that leaves the planes flat in various orientations, each surface bounded by straight lines. (Origami cars come first to mind but there are ever-larger numbers of origami animals too that answer this description). This gives a model a more mechanical, less organic look, that still contrasts with a two-dimensional language but less so than curved lines or surfaces do. In this sense such work is more continuous with two-dimensional origami and so gives a feeling of being more ‘origami-correct’.

Now correctness, I hasten to mention, has never been my strong suit. (I’m invariably subversive; origami for me is fundamentally subversive—of time, to begin with, but that’s already saying a lot). But I am interested in understanding qualities from top to bottom, and one of the ways you can tease out qualities and understand their nature better is by combining opposites within a single piece. This is not strictly necessary: Komatsu’s Lion in so many ways sets a new aesthetic standard (one by the way that Komatsu himself mostly can’t live up to), combining and sharpening recent developments and styles in a way that seems to me perfectly ‘origami-correct’, but to see what his advance consists in you need to hold in mind the forms of animals that preceded it and still surround it in the history of origami. I like to see combinations or even tensions within an actual work, as that adds subversive spice rather than palatability. And subversion—life pushing out—is key.

So that it mattered to me, among all the accolades that Joel Cooper’s work is rightly garnering for itself, that it is also an achievement in contrasts. Obviously the flat forms and straight lines are being contrasted with the rounded ones, but more than this—and more subversively—a repeatable, indeed repeated, and in principle teachable, set of mind-numbing folds is contrasted here with an unrepeatable, unteachable shape: a human face, that will come out differently every time it is made and in the hands of anyone less than an artist will come out deformed, grotesque or just goofy: in the polite parlance of origami, a ‘mask’. This work makes what I like to think as the statement: that mind, calculation, and endless precise labor has its place, and ornament even more so, but art, or heart, rises over or out of these, literally protrudes, a transcendence that keeps its material roots completely in view. This is subversive specifically of origami, because part of the social compact that sustains public origami is the idea that art is reduceable to mechanism, and if only you are able to repeat a sequence of folds on your sheet, however laboriously, you’ll be in the position of the artist or creator—you’ll be inside the thought. --There is of course truth enough in this illusion to keep the compact going; but it only goes so far.

To be continued---needless to say.


steyen said...

wow!your article are so abstract!waiting for the second part =)
keep it up!

origomi said...

Your take on Joel's work is spot on- I concur completely.

The juxtaposition of geometric tessellated forms and curved, human faces is particularly fascinating; the image of a natural creation emerging from a strict, ordered surface is visually arresting, and is certainly one reason why his work has received such acclaim.

And there is the element of the unteachable; anyone can learn the rudimentaries of tessellations. To take that to the level Joel is at, however- that's truly an art, and is not something that can be duplicated, even by the most skilled amongst the origami world. They could certainly create similar works, that would have their own hallmarks of creative genius, but Joel's work will always be his own, and retain an element of his own intrinsic nature within them.

This has other aspects, too- we witnessed people at the OUSA convention expressing incredulity that Joel was sharing the techniques he uses to create his art. They felt that it was unwise for him to make any of his methods public, thinking instead that he should hide them so they cannot be duplicated.

Now, I feel this is somewhat preposterous. Joel has an innate skill that few in this world can duplicate, and the likelihood of his work being replicated en masse is rather small. Instead, it seemed to me like the master artist showing how he paints a portrait- it doesn't matter how long you watch, any attempts to copy the actions will not result in a duplication of a masterpiece. There's too much natural ability, and hard-won knowledge and practical skills, in the actions he takes when creates things.

My 2 cents on the issue, I think you are absolutely on the right track with your thinking here!

-Eric Gjerde