Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Llopio’s Moment of Truth

This model with all its drama and flourish was designed by Neal Elias in the 1960s in the USA, and folded expertly a few years ago by Eyal Reuveni, here in Israel.

Full of suspense, presence and equipoise, it is the only ‘dated’ work I included in the Tikotin show, besides the Yoshizawas. But it not only holds its own against the four decades of advances in origami technique that came after it, it even remains distinct, like an island jutting from the sea. It’s kept its innocence too. Though it points in the direction of technical origami, this creation by the pioneer of box-pleating manages to avoid most of the clunkiness to which that technique is prone in lesser hands. It is not "showily technical", does just enough to get the job done, and so holds a quiet strength.

Elias was also the pioneer of the joined two-object model, and of course of the significant color change. I’ve noted elsewhere that having two objects of equal weight in a sculpture turns it from being a noun phrase (‘this is an A’) into a verb phrase (‘A is doing Y to B’). With two linked objects, besides an implied action or relation the viewer can shift his self-identification from one object to the other and thus invert the inflection of the verb. That may be part of the fascination. Here in origami the dramatic possibilities are still more pronounced: when everything is formed from a single sheet of paper, you perceive what the sculpture is meant to be, notice its different parts, and sense the fateful continuity between them, all in the same quick flash of recognition.

One does not need to have Spanish blood, or to have seen it shed in the bullring, to appreciate the drama of this moment. For this is what the viewers have come to see: the ‘Minotaur moment’, when matador and bull, before one of them cedes its life, suddenly become one. How perfectly is this union of souls expressed here, with matador and bull made of the same stuff and the same color: separated now only by the sheet that joins them, with its metaphysical union and two-sidedness. (As in that beautiful English word which also means its opposite: to cleave, which is both to cut and to cling--both scissors and glue--and which term presumably derives from leaf, the primordial sheet.)

It pleases me to think that this old work on a Spanish theme might give courage today to folders in far-off places: to people in sunny or southern climes, in Spain itself perhaps, or in South America, or even South Africa. Some place locked within fields and mountains, where news of the world does not fast filter in. For when one is disheartened by how much is made of technical origami in the various media today, it is good to remember what paperfolding once was, and still is, about: Firmness of purpose in the cleanness of line; purity of soul in the expanse of clean surface; whimsy and lightness, as in the dexterous grace of the knife-thrower; the joys, conjoined, of intelligence, simplicity and magic.