Monday, July 10, 2017

"Press-Origami", by Masha Revva

Origami Tessellations + Press-Prints on Paper
June 20 -- July 4th, 2017

Jerusalem Artisans Gallery 
(Beit Ot Hamotzar Hayerushalmi)
12 Hebron Street, Jerusalem, Israel

This is a fine, understated exhibit by a leading Israeli origami artist, strangely moving given that the works in it are entirely non-figurative. It brings together tessellations—tile-like patterns from folded paper, each built out of minute folds of a single, uncut sheet—with old-fashioned color press-prints.  These too are on paper, made by passing the same kinds of folded objects under a heavy roller after inking. What's surprising is that even though everything here is pattern and geometry, so much emotion manages to be conveyed: even the specific feelings of nostalgia, hope, determination.

This is also a welcome departure from standard origami exhibitions where one either displays arty-looking paperfolds or efforts to make origami “practical” (fold-up solar collectors for satellites; robotic wheels that expand, flat materials engineered to behave in surprising ways). All as a way of  “justifying” origami in the big bad world, making it seem more of an adult activity. Of course that's a doomed enterprise: audiences want origami to be childlike! But Masha's show is doubly doomed. For she steps out of the safety of the cloistered origami world with its endless animals and patterns and polyhedra, puts up something that's not practical in the least and that even verges on the incomprehensible, and-- while showing origami that is doubtless superbly crafted-- does so only in relation to another (perhaps lost) art. Oh well, so we Embrace the Doom.

This exact combination, tessellated origami + press-prints----just what does it mean?

Of course it joins a field that says “future” (for origami seems fresh, 'rationalistic' and forward looking, in spite of its history --or the fact it seemed fresh and forward-looking 500 years ago too) with an art that is visibly traditional and if not quite passe today then at at least 'nostalgic', as the big old roller presses are largely retired from the world, are set out in the fields to rust.

But there's more to it than that.

"Spiritual" is arguably the worst word in the dictionary to be stuck with as an aesthetic category, but in the case of this exhibit, what choice do we have?

Press-printed works and block typography have (now that this medium is in retreat, we can look back and say) an inherent dimension of “spirituality” simply in that not all of what goes under the roller transfers its ink evenly. What comes through are often “ghostly” traces, so that a print becomes, besides what it displays, also a record of the event of the plate or the object's squeezing through: an imperfect record like a memory. The partial lines, the spotty patches with the white of the paper shining from behind give us a kind of past along with the vividly encountered present.

Origami has a different kind of spiritual potential. Its medium-- paper, tissue-like-- is ephemeral, as life is, but also resilient up to a point, again as life is. Unlike wood or metal or stone or plastic, paper “breathes”. Paper sequentially folded further conveys an idea of “mind” being impressed on matter: a design, a sequence of moves that yields just this shape, geometric or not. Actually the Mind that gets pressed-in is not just intelligence or cleverness: the folds are put there by touch, so there's an element of Character in them too, of the individual folder's personality. One senses the rigor needed in making thousands of folds so exactly; some regions of a tessellation also show a flexibility. Did I say Doom? Then this is determination in the face of doom.

And then, because with origami the material is both uncut and not joined-from-parts, any shape as given conveys the sense that it might be undone, part-way or all the way back to flat, and then redone, perhaps differently; with results subject only to the limits of geometry and imagination (which constraints however are very significant). The paper breathes: but the shape does also. In short: a given origami object carries with it a cloud of possibilities, is never quite final. It is present, but carries its futures right with it.

And now these two forms of “spirit”, past-looking and future-looking, have been brought together, indeed one made by means of the other.

“Tessellations”  literally means tile patterns and this branch of origami follows a tradition that has been explored in ceramic tile especially in Central Asia and the wider Middle East. In the Al-Hambra it reaches its apotheosis. Tiles and their glazes are subject to erosion: if on floors then by feet, if outdoors then by wind and rain. When they erode they have the effect mimicked in paper-prints -- of persisting while being timeworn, making venerable, a link to the ancestors. When Masha runs these paperfold tiles through the press and then adds her little riffs, she is returning to origami to its origins in the decorative arts as we know them in churches, synagogues, mosques and civic structures especially in this part of the world. It is a beautiful, sweet exercise in preserving tradition while advancing and questioning it.

These ideas---I would like to see them carried further. Today tiles are made using photo-etching and other newer technologies: why not take photos of these prints and output the PDFs onto actual tiles? (I know just the place for this: Ilana Bauman of Siman She'elah Gallery, where OrigamIsrael exhibited in 2015, does such printing on tiles or stone professionally). And from the other side, for the origami that is supposed to be living and breathing, that lightens the heart—in the next iteration of this show I would  would like to see, besides the pieces flat on the walls, a few bowl-like tessellations; some wavy, organic shapes sitting on stands without glass. The two ends of the snake will then be stretched out further, even as they are brought together.

Saadya Sternberg
July 2017

Tessellation artist Masha Revva

Photographer Sasha Nurenberg embedded in a reflection of an origami tessellation. All photos in this article are hers. The tessellations themselves folded by Ms. Revva are largely interpretations of designs by various creators (credited in the exhibit), here including Shuzo Fujimoto, Roman Diaz, Eric Gjerde and Ilan Garibi .