Last week I had a communication out of the blue from Stephan Weber, first by email then by Skype. Stephan had recently gone back to doing human heads (“masks”) and must have been pointed to my site, where he found a lot of similarity of intent with what I've been doing.
I first encountered Weber at “Masters of Origami” in Salzburg, 2005, a show put together by the Red Bull corporation. That was a landmark exhibit, full of first-rate origami some of which was also high art indeed—but Stephan's pair of giant, almost snorting red bulls, struck me as that exhibition's focal point. Immense, vigorous, detailed, absolute icons of latent power, I could not take my eyes off them. Stephan tells me he was tasked by Red Bull to make them about a week before the show opened, and complied.
Stephan divides his time between Germany (was it Cologne?) and Patagonia, Chile. What he does in Chile I don't know, except that he likes to go fishing and is rebuilding after a hostel he owned was destroyed by a volcano. In Germany he works the holiday season folding and selling on the street. (These details are sufficiently sketchy that I'm sure Stephan will pardon me for disclosing them.) This constant practice over the years has made Stephan the fastest folder in the world, and also attuned him to what delights an audience and where in the longer sequences their patience flags. That in turn has shaped his approach to paper and his concept of an ideal origami design: it had better be short and effective.
At “Masters of Origami” I was too shy to ask him to make me one of his bulls (a ten-minute folding job for him), though Joseph Wu was lucky enough to get one. We didn't really communicate. But I watched from the side as he did his public folding, surrounded by Austria's fashion models—young blond Claudia Schiffer lookalikes—who were gazing on, wearing an expression of rapture.
It's strange but one lives one's life vicariously, through other people too or more exactly fantasies of them. We do it with them and they do it with us. He is jealous of where I've gone with the Faces or the thin layer of analysis that stretches over the spontaneity, in origami and other things; or the fact I can string a few sentences together. I am jealous of his speed in folding; of his animal spirits with the paper, and very sure sense of paper's qualities; and especially of his direct contact with people, the most extreme and direct form of origami connection, that almost no one else has. Also the persistence and spirits needed to do this 11 hours a day, 40 days on end. He sings for his supper: what do we do? That's what's called earning one's living honestly, not this writing of books or or giving lectures or doing commercials or all the other stuff origami professionals do for a buck, no offense. I can't do what he does but I can sure admire it. And living out in beautiful reaches of South America half the year, well for me that's just another unlived fantasy.
I tried folding his Bull twice (first from a visual reconstruction, later from diagrams), but had trouble with the proportions. In terms of a teachable sequence, it is a crude, ugly fold, with few landmarks. That is OK; not all origami has to have the goal of teachability or repeatability. We can't all be hyper-referencers like Komatsu or strict 22.5-degree-enjoyable-sequencers like Roman Diaz. There is real virtue, if also drawbacks, to the raw, blind attack on the square of paper, wrestling the form from it almost without thought (but with the benefit of years of tactile experience) in the most direct and quick manner. Speed! Touch! Results!--And if possible also: linelessness!
Of his animals, the Bull is far and away the best; others, like the Squirrel, the Hounds, can't help calling to mind comparable models by other designers (LaFosse, Komatsu, Montroll, Joisel, Yoshizawa) and not always gaining from the comparison. I think there are great advantages to maintaining a certain distance from the broader origami world, but periodic contact and competition is a good thing too and it is undeniable that origami has progressed faster and farther than other arts because of its extra social & communicative dimension. Yet some people need a certain isolation to develop a purer sense of themselves, and I very much respect that. Certainly one grows more curious about these characters who keep themselves apart. I am rooting for the holdouts.
Added February 17, 2011. I am pleased to learn today (it had nothing to do with me) that Stephan Weber will be a featured guest at the 1st Origami Canada convention, to be held in Vancouver, BC October 5-9, 2012.