In a life it may happen that you find yourself in free-fall, with nothing to hope for except the crash you know is coming sooner or later. And then, out from nowhere, from a white mist, comes this hand that locks on to yours in a fore-arm grip, and hoists you back to the flying trapeze. The things you’ve said or done in an earlier existence, in some long-forgotten past, serve you in good stead. Even having done some origami once upon a time, turns out possibly to count.
In the mail the other day there arrived a packet—sent, the handwritten address shows, from a possibly mythical land called “Grenoble”. The sender is decidedly a mythic creature: it is Nicolas Terry, who one recognizes (even without checking behind for the shape of his ears) to be an Elf, with unaccountable powers for work and for granting others their wishes or dreams. And the book—one trembles with excitement while peeling away the cardboard—is that long-awaited text by Roman Diaz, Origami for Interpreters. Ah….
I am not about to write a review of this book. Others will do that, soon enough. In any event I plan to savor this delicacy for as long as possible, weeks or months probably, letting the folds it describes trickle into the folds of my brain. This is not usual with me; I usually try to resist the influence of trends in the world or even of individual figures--retreating into my cocoon if that's what it takes. But in this case--- "resistance is futile."
No doubt, too, some ideas the book stimulates will force their way into the writing of this Blog, disrupting my carefully-laid plans. Oh well, that can't be helped. Here, though, is something I've been wondering about for a long time: it's a thought that an image from Roman's book merely prompts.
The first, then, in a scattered series of reflections on "Origami and 'Expressiveness' ".
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The thing with Diaz’ animals— which is true, just as true of all good animal origami—is that there is no irony in it, just a love of animals (I mean along with the intellect, humor, breeding and the rest that go into these particular designs): and the origami gets better the more real feeling there is for those beasties. Maybe I need to point out how astounding this is, for we in origami are inclined to overlook it. There is no serious art-form among the plastic arts today which allows one to express one’s affection directly for an person, thing or place, let alone for an individual animal or its typical species-form. One’s representing always has to be done with some sort of knowing smirk, with a statement suggesting some cleverness on the part of the artist or stupidity on the part of the audience. This is called “Contempt-orary Art”, and it is basically the only kind of art being shown in galleries and museums today. If it does not have this cleverness or trendiness or irony or hipness or making-of-statements the object automatically gets relegated to the status of kitsch. Or anyway the museum doors will be shut to it, for whatever the reason.
To illustrate the specialness of paper-folding in this regard, take the picture that graces the cover of Roman’s book, of a Crane (or perhaps it is a ‘heron’). Try and imagine a sculpture of a such a bird in any other medium. What it would look like? Where you would come across it? You can imagine it as a lawn ornament, and then it would be the purest kitsch. Or maybe it would have striking colors and something humorous to recommend it, to stop the neighbors dead in their tracks. (Cleverness again. Nothing wrong with that, by the way.) Indoors, you might find a heron or crane carved from wood; and I don’t say it couldn’t be done artistically. But chances are that even then, the artistry would involve a great proportion of stylization, as compared to feeling for the represented animal. It might be for instance an art-deco crane, where the artistic weight would be on the art-deco side and how this merges with the nature of wood: not on the 'Soul of the Crane', the affection for it, the intimacy of one’s knowledge of it--these would be blurred, beaten back. For feeling is not really allowed nowadays. Even in drawing and painting this is largely the case. If you come across a picture of an individual crane done 'with expression' it is likely to be a Japanese brushstroke painting made a century or more ago.
What I'm trying in my stuttering way to say, is that there seems to be something unique about the status that our young-old art now finds itself in. Origami may be in a tough place in terms of its public acceptance as a full form of art, (more on that another time) , but the truth of the matter is that Art in general is in a very awkward place these days. And an emotional honesty and directness is being allowed to us, that is currently denied to most of the world of expression.
I can’t really account for why we are being granted this privilege.