Thursday, August 07, 2008

Yoshizawa, Spain and Japan

[I had occasion, a year and a half ago,
to hold in my hands for the first time in my life some original works by Akira Yoshizawa, in the home of a private collector of Japanese art in Haifa, Israel: a collector of discrimination and taste who had been given these works by Yoshizawa himself in Japan in the 1960s or 70s. Maybe one day I will write the full story of that visit. Meanwhile, here are some notes from my journal at the time. Still sketchy & inconclusive; possibly ill-considered: --but this IS a Blog.]


January 14, 2007.

The Yoshizawa things. Made an impression on me. But yesterday too I was singularly impressionable.

Resilience of the paper. Much stiffer than you can imagine but still paper-like. The paper itself does not seem excessively thick, perhaps 70-80 lbs, but it has the stiffness of thick Bristol. I must try this heavy wet-folding myself.

Looking at these works---one gets, transmitted from the touch on paper, an idea of the experience of the man: the winters, the poverty, the struggles of post-war & post-atom-bomb Japan, and this man’s isolated & defiant lifelong battle to make this nothing into something---all that comes across. Of course I am reading what I know and imagine, back into what I saw. Even so, there’s a world of experience, in that still-visible touch.

I’ve been thinking vaguely about these themes of late. Origami in the 19th century was already starting to bubble up, to break out of the confines of tradition it had languished in for centuries---both in Japan and in the West. But in the West, in Spain and Germany, there were more of these bubbles; and when the tradition turned creative in the hands of a few individuals, it did so first in Spain with Unamuno, and very shortly afterward with Solarzano (in Argentina) and others; while in Japan it was Yoshizawa by himself for a VERY long time. Unamuno and Solarzano were far less prolific than Yoshizawa was in his lifetime, were probably less talented; certainly they were less single-minded. They did not have to fight so hard to change origami into something else, that would command respect, in part because the tradition that considered this occupation childish or female or of no-account was not as strong in Spain as it was and is in Japan; and also because the idea of doing something ‘of-no-account’ held (and still holds) a certain charm to the Spanish mind, did not NEED to be defeated. Witness Gaudi; witness Miro.

And so in Spain, an origami developed that was more social from the outset: it was done not by one person but by several---by members of an intellectual class, who delighted in showing each other & teaching each other their new fold-sequences. (In this respect Spanish origami may have picked up a kind of social lightness and grace that it had possessed during Samurai times in Japan.) In Yoshizawa’s hands, conversely, the attempt was to change the production of origami into an ART; that meant, understanding paper qualities, pioneering paper stiffening techniques, and developing an evocative sculptural touch that only a master practitioner can have. In Spain, an origami develops that is more about straight lines and teachable folds, about elegance and delight of sequence; in Japan, an origami develops which is more about the end-result than the process, or where the process is something one is more secretive about.