Monday, September 10, 2007

Mother and Child

I was very glad to get Giang Dinh’s “Mother and Child” for the Tikotin show, and glad too, that by independent decision this image appears on the catalog’s front cover and on the invitation card. For it nicely represents the guiding thought of this show: that origami can sometimes be an art, as high as any of the traditional arts. Mere modesty & self-restraint keep me from saying there are even heights of artistic expression which origami can reach that are not possible in other media of sculpture. (Of course origami has its limitations too.)

If one asks why that is, here—what makes this work art and great art at that—there are some obvious points to start with. Immediately noticeable are the clean modern lines, the long curves and fluid surfaces. Also the work has a manifest simplicity: while there are certainly areas where it is not easy to guess how the thing is folded, the bulk of it, and the main inversion at the bottom, is perfectly obvious and followable by the eye; there are no tricks, what is achieved is achieved without technical sophistication, which is unnecessary and has no place here. Then too, there is a concept expressed: the shy child peering out of its mother’s protective skirts. This is not one of the common variants of the mother & child theme in sculpture, but is closely enough related to them, and on reflection is better expressed in folded paper and in this form of fold than it would be in pretty much any other way. The genetic relation between the figures is signaled both by a repetition of form and the physical continuity of the paper, simple but deep ideas that one recognizes with instant delight.

In the dim recesses of history out of which origami sprang, 800, 1,000, 1,200 years ago—in the rituals of the Shinto religion—paper, white paper, was associated with purification; and folded (and cut) ceremonial representations of humans and deities began to emerge, with folded animals soon to follow. This figural work of Giang Dinh’s has an aspect of purification too, in its whiteness and smooth contours. And it is also religious in its way, though the religion seems more a sort of Christianity; there is the protective mother and child theme itself; and the innocence of the child expressed in its shyness; and the drama of the vaguely nun-like robes. That drama and the odd externality of it—mystery expressed through concealment, enrobement; individuality scaled back to just a face and a gesture—also has associations with the traditional stage performances of Southeast Asia, a fact far more explicit in the other work by Giang Dinh in this show, his series “The Dance”. But it is “Mother and Child” which brings together tradition with modernity, ideas of origin and purity and innocence with replication and continuity, and a new fusion of East and West in a single lithe, iconic package. I take my hat off.