Monday, July 14, 2008

Material and Immaterial

Last week I went to see the paper arts exhibit at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv (“Material and Immaterial”—a nice title, will have to use it myself sometime) which was curated by Paul Jackson of the IOC. A solid, tasteful, well-arranged show of paper arts of various kinds, mostly by practitioners in Israel. Very little origami—three or four installations I think, depending how you count; but with one powerful installation of representational origami by French master Eric Joisel. Of his three faces I especially liked one that looked to be from leathery paper, presumably wet-folded. And the Joisel vases/bottles too were compelling, especially as another, permanent exhibit in the same Museum has historical glass bottles that form a nice counterpoint to his. (Glass has, over history, worked its way out of opacity and into translucency, as blowing techniques developed; and some of that same transition is kept in one of the Joisel bottles—with the layered paper at the narrow top being opaque, the thinner bulge below suggesting lightness & translucency. Interesting to compare glass and paper----)

It is not a fault of this show, and I mean absolutely no disrespect to the many & gifted other paper artists there: but like most exhibits even good ones of contemporary art today, there is little that sticks in the eye, heart or mind five minutes after seeing it.

The exception is the origami, and that one Joisel mask in particular.

I ask myself whether I have a jaundiced view here owing to my fondness for paperfolds, or to my own specialty within it. But having looked into my heart, as they say, I think not; and I conclude that origami, alone among the paper arts, and almost alone among the contemporary plastic arts, has the ability, without shocking or social commentary, to linger in the brain, to cause delight and wonder. This is a quality, in other words, of the medium itself. Of course the particular works have to be good enough too. The choice of Joisel for this show in Israel was specially apt, for lots of reasons, but I imagine that works by other top designers could have had the same effect on this score, I mean would have shown origami to stand out from the rest of the paper arts, in a category apart.

But it was good to see these things together in one place, for it confirms a suspicion I’ve long had (and not me alone of course). Art-objects made from paper may be interesting, clever, colorful, ironic, contemporary, humorous, youthful, expressive, and all the rest. It really is amazing all the things you can make from this one immaterial material. And nevertheless and despite all that: the moment you take a scissors to the sheet of paper, all the magic runs out of it. It bleeds right out of the cut.