Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters

'Bela', by Saadya Sternberg
at the "Paper Creatures" exhibit, Jaffa Museum

I'm just back from the opening of "Paper Creatures" at the Jaffa Museum.  Many magnificent works there (about half origami) and much to think about--it will take me several days to ponder it all.  For the time being here is an unsorted preview of the few things I have decent photos of.

Meanwhile--I have pieces in this exhibition too, which if they do not lower the average level, certainly do not lead the works in it. As a place-keeper I'll just post here the text I wrote a few months ago that's meant to go with my display.

The Concept
"The city of  Zaragoza, in Spain, is famous as the home of Europe's first museum of origami art. But it is also the birthplace of Francisco Goya: and while visiting there I saw a series of etchings of this artist -- a tour de force called "Los Caprichos", with humans behaving like and turning into donkeys and other animals. In one image, a handsome man falls asleep at his desk and behind him "monsters", bat-like and owl-like, arise ominously and take wing. I borrowed Goya's title and, leaving the social commentary behind (keeping just the fun)  decided to do something comparable using origami.

For most people origami-making is about repeating forms invented by someone else, with freedom of choice as to paper type, size, color, final shaping decisions etc. Original origami design is about thinking up the variations of geometry and sequence needed for new creations ("Reason": though hardly asleep). And in all cases  you start from a flat sheet and by folds alone "evolve" it into something else.

If you combine all three of these ideas, you arrive at the concept of a morph sequence:  one shape or model developing into another. In practice with figurative origami this has almost never been done. I wanted to see if I could pull it off.

"The premise of this exhibition, I did not at first entirely subscribe to. Origami's basic business seems to me to be with the natural, not the fantastical: all those paperfolded animals, humans etc. are meant to be related to as if alive, and identification--whether of detailed parts or essential features or gestures--is key to the fun of the viewer of origami. Also, all too often, gargoyles, mythical or deformed creatures are an excuse for a flexible hence lower standard of representation: what they really reflect are limits of the folder-designer's technical and artistic abilities. So I've kept myself tethered at one end to some sort of realism. As it turned out though, I was glad for this challenge to make a "monster" that does not know it is one! -- and carries on in our world with as much right, and poise, as any of us.

Materials and Methods 
"The paper here is 160 gsm Canson mi-teintes, in assorted colors, rubbed  with diluted ink and folded while damp. The technique of origami wet-folding takes a bit of practice (a lifetime's...) but also often needs repetition with the specific model sequence till the fingers can do it on their own. It's much like piano-playing: you do it twenty, fifty times and then it starts to get smooth. Your touch must be gentle and decisive: it is incredibly easy to ruin things by overwork and the paper must be neither too damp nor too dry. Also the sculpture must be made in one go, al fresco, so your design may not involve many steps. Done right the result is indeed a kind of frozen music, the paper transmitting to the viewer all the touches of emotion that went into it.

These creatures are all "pure origami": each is made from a single uncut paper square. (But...secret... while the faces are all about the same size, the squares are not!)"



The above is what I wrote for the broad public (more or less). For you origami specialists I'll add the perfectly obvious point, that when designing one typically wants to maximize the independence of regions of the paper--the “limbs”--so as to end up with the greatest extension, freedom of movement, potential for expressive play and so forth. A head is a good thing to keep independent and typically it takes up one corner of the square, as it does here too. In this case, since all features of the face except the ears come from that one corner (not so common in origami faces), you have the possibility of keeping the face constant while “growing” the other features simply by taking different-sized squares to start with. I’ve done this whimsically and cheaply with crude ears-that-become-wings, but you could easily imagine much fancier metamorphoses of this type: hairy legs, elaborate feathered. wings starting to grow etc. Or a real evolutionary sequence.

I’m kind of surprised this hasn’t been done. Even the idea of “A turning into B” (for separate pieces, not in a continuous surface like a tessellation), has been done significantly so far as I know only by Giang Dinh---quite a few times but especially in his brilliant “Generations” series that includes the "Mother and Child".

You can consider this a call to action…

I’ll point out too, that though this installation is a “morph” it is not exactly a linear morph with each object midway in features between the two next to it. Rather it is a “population morph” with, if you like, “recessive” features not all of which necessarily show up in the next generation. So, one creature grows into an Old Vamp, still sort of “human”; next to it is a “monster” but now a juvenile one with delicious skin. The red flying piece is becoming owl-like, the grey one bat-like (In the show itself the shelf they gave me did not leave room for the bat.) One piece shows off the most simple, child-like “face-painting” I could come up with from a square--keeping to 'minimal-line/impact' principles--and is made with a smile; it’s neighbor goes in for much more textured detail. Each is straining to become a different individual, I mean species; but they are all  also constrained by the identity of the common pattern for their face. (And the dignified red piece at left, who represents "Reason", is not the progenitor of the sequence despite being on the highest dias---no matter what he thinks). This too I guess is some sort of statement about endless origami-making, about the ranges of variation and exploration one allows but also, crucially, the ranges of continuity and repetition that one holds oneself to.