Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Peacock's Tail

Around the time I launched this Blog, a question on my mind was: Is there any shape more beautiful in origami than the Paper Fan---that starts from the fan as its point of origin? In other words: Can the Fan be improved?

The answer is – I suspect not. But there certainly exist highly fruitful progressions that have begun from this shape. I am referring to forms by, I believe, Kawasaki and Paul Jackson from an earlier generation, and in this one, the methodical “geometric” explorations of e.g. Ray Schamp and Goran Konjevod. All of these add a layer of complexity and visual interest and sometimes too a curving third dimension to the fan-shape’s basic two, but at a cost to the purity of that primal form, the sunburst. The cost is greater than the benefit, in my opinion. But what is to be done: we can’t remain virgins forever. It is the same problem with the Square, which invariably is more beautiful and pure than the tarantula or unicorn that is made from it.

Anyway, while seeking an answer to this question in my own language, I turned to the Peacock, which clearly does successfully ornament its fan tail (if success is to be measured in what works for Pea-hens.) This is my rendition of its pattern, using curved folds.

And lest we forget, here is an image of the original. Rather more sumptuous, I have to say.

Looking more closely at the Peacock itself, it is curious that in trying to woo the Peahen the male is using eye-spots (‘ocelli’), which generally in the animal world are ‘agonistic’ , i.e. warning signals.

Now this of course is not the only instance in nature where a ‘cold’ signal has been transformed into a ‘warm’ one. Indeed it happens all the time: a famous case from our own species is the smile—bared fangs being threatening almost everywhere else in the animal world. But usually, what is needed to “invert” the meaning of a signal is some change or added element in it. If it's the smile--you see this more clearly in the Mandrill, which also has one--rotating the direction of the teeth display, so that it's horizontal rather than vertical, is what changes its meaning from threat to appeasement. If it’s so-called “aposematic” coloration—warning colors, which are usually the two colors of yellow/orange/red against black, each region in large pools, spots or bands, divided clearly from the other color—that pattern needs to be replaced with colors other than the above, or with more than two of them, or with finer gradations between them rather than clear demarcations, sometimes carried through all the colors of the rainbow. And if it is eyes, these need to be softened with blush or lashes rather than outlined sharply. And then the signal will mean ‘Come Hither…’ instead of ‘Keep Off!’ (It is striking that the Peacock’s actual eyes, the one it sees through, are not softened like the ‘ocelli’ but rather made more fierce via cross-eye bands.)

Here with the Peacock, it seems to me, though there is a softening iridescence too in the tail's ocelli, the bird is counting on the further fact that these ‘eyes’ are also egg-shaped. Now eggs, for all their suggestion of mystery and fecundity and wholeness and expectation for us humans, are positively ravishing symbols in bird-language. The female when incubating has to stay fixated on & near to & worried about this exact shape for weeks or months on end, so she is primed to it. She has an ingrained weakness for just this oval-form, and a male who can display it in his body or in a pattern has a distinct advantage in sexual selection. (Or so I have suggested once before on this Blog. And how can the shining ovals of a displaying peacock NOT be read by a bird-brain as a shower or sunburst of fecundity?)

That, at any rate, was the theory. But while mulling these thoughts over I wondered what would happen if we used human symbols for the ocelli instead of peacock ones. Here is the first thing I came up with.

How about it, Ladies?