Thursday, July 13, 2006

Line, Motion, Form


Distinctive postures and motions
. An animal has not only so to speak its basic anatomical shape, but also often an immediately recognizable way of holding itself or of moving. A rabbit hunches to eat; a horse lowers its long neck and swishes its tail while grazing; a cat stretches in a way no other animal quite does. I’ve tried to capture some of this in origami. Sometimes you can get away with a body that’s not anatomically or representationally accurate, if you manage to nail the motion on the head. This is an old trick that’s been around in traditional sculpture long before it became available to origami; there’s a rich history of twisting, contorted forms or figures in motion, carved in marble and cast in bronze. (Welcome to the Rococo). (Granted, while motion can be interesting in itself it doesn’t have to come at the expense of other artistic virtues.)

A variant of this theme that the real Masters—not the origami so-called ones—knew about was capturing latent motion, a skittish horse for example, or a human whose movement has been arrested by a thought but is about to resume it. This is a bit beyond my present powers in origami. (Let's just wait a few years.) Freud, however, who knew nothing of paperfolding but did have an extensive collection of mantelpiece sculptures and figurines, writes about the theme of latent motion in sculpture very usefully in his essay “Michaelangelo’s Moses”.

What—(free associating now, you’ll have to pardon me, it’s a warm afternoon here in Beersheva and the mind wanders)—is related to this idea about motion and form, on both the origami and the natural history sides?

In origami, long before Brian Chan became BRIAN CHAN or had invented his impossible shrimp, people were trying to squeeze long pointy independent limbs from a square sheet of paper. Some of us (well, me) who could only get so far with this, resorted to a trick. If your limb was long but maybe not long enough, you could always visually continue the line up into the body some ways (with e.g. an outside valley fold) and it will seem longer. My early Cats did this to the greatest effect, but I've used this ploy since to varying degrees in a great many other models too and with my Horse took great pains to carry the lines of the legs all the way up the sides of the body—and to make sure there were body lines in no other place. So, controlling where lines go as well as displaying distinctive motion are ways of sidestepping the problems of limb length and representational anatomy----for those of us who are constitutionally phobic to Insect Origami.

And of Natural History here, what’s there to say? Not much, except to notice that we and other animals seem geared to assessing the potential movement of any given animal just from seeing the shape and position of its limbs and musculature. It’s as if the brain copies out the dimensions and the pivot points of what it sees, performs a model oscillation, and draws quick conclusions as to how fast the thing will go… --Needless to say, as either predator or prey, this sort of figuring is pretty important to just about every creature. In their visual tricks many animals are known to play on this analysis in the way they’re painted: like the origami ploy of carrying a line past its point of independence, the line along the midriff is often drawn in such a way that one's pot-belly is obscured and one's hind-quarter muscles accentuated. Read: (a) not much meat here, and (b) I can run, don’t waste your precious energies on me. It’s too damn hot.

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