Wednesday, September 29, 2010

an introduction with no conclusion

Before and After.

Can you guess which origami object the following fold pattern is for?

A.) B.)C.)
Answer (below):


One more.

A.) B.)C.)


* * *

Whenever I heard the word origami I used to picture the kinds of patterns and designs shown above. Trinkets, cute little objects... A relaxing hobby. Yes, pieces could be intricate and technically impressive, but overall I'd never seen anything that made me give much thought to paper folding as an art. However, my view on this was recently altered by a couple of the people featured in the documentary Between the Folds. And while I still know next to nothing about origami, I figured I'd share /sort through some of my thoughts and discoveries...

The first part of Between the Folds reinforced my impression of origami as (basically) an expression of math -- more science than art. Many of its practitioners are focused on creating and designing objects with the highest number of folds (the average fold count is constantly increasing). This obsession with difficulty level keeps the focus on technical aspects of creation which ultimately leads to the design -- not the finished piece -- being the star. The creation is merely an assembled puzzle, and many designers take pride in creating things that can only be folded by people with incredible dexterity (and many folders take pride in the dexterity that's required). Thus, the design (or blueprint) is the creation, and the creation itself is merely a kind of paint-by-numbers. What usually ends up happening under this model is that the majority of finished products lack depth and resonance (though fellow practitioners who also worship at the Alter of Difficulty must surely stand before the best of them in awe).

For me, the best of these type of objects are the kind of thing I see and think: neat!

Anyone can appreciate the design and time that when in to creating the finished product, especially when one considers the fact that it was made from a single piece of paper (with no cutting or gluing). But if the finished objects are art, they're the art of the puzzle designer. The art of the problem solver. The art of the technician. The art of the engineer. The art of the computer.

Blade Runner (1982)

I found a little more to like in some of Eric Joisel's paper sculptures. He improvises as he goes (no two finished pieces of his are the same), and this comes across in his work. On the whole, there's something warm, organic and uncalculated about his pieces when compared to ones that are more focused on a mathematical approach. (Joisel is not a purist. Sometimes he uses more than one sheet of paper, for example.)

Snail (single sheet)

Along with a focus on technical details, much of the origami community (at least as it's presented in the film) is obsessed with realism. This is not surprising. People geared towards math are adept at numbers, patterns, puzzles, etc., and, using these strengths, they can figure out how to replicate something that already exists, treating it like a problem to be solved. Thus, they're likely to value realism highly because it's something they can excel at and because they know how to measure (and judge) the result. What they're less good at (of course I'm generalizing) is non-technical, less-practical, and what might even be called irrational forms of creativity. (I don't want to say that mathematics doesn't require creativity; surely it does. But it's creativity of a very different sort.) Left brained thinkers, on the whole, are more literal and less imaginative(?), and their take on origami seems to reflect this. Again, the result (at its worst) is work that's cold, mechanical, and literal minded (however technically impressive). When I see this kind of origami I see hours and hours of folding and (usually) little else.

This approach to paper folding has already begun its next logical step: people are using origami to express certain mathematical theories. The result is a more abstract origami, an origami that appears to be the opposite of one in which objects are measured by how closely they resemble, say, a specific animal. But such abstractions also fit within this logic-based way of seeing and interpreting because the results can still be easily judged. If not in terms of realism then in terms of their practical or theoretical application or expression.

I'm speaking very generally, of course. No approach is automatically better or worse than any other approach. "Computational origami" can be beautiful too.

(above) "MIT Professor of electrical engineering and computer science, Dr. Erik Demaine, creates computational origami with attempt to reveal the mechanism of how pleated paper self folds into specific circular surfaces. His math sculptures are built on explorations started at the Bauhaus in the 1920's in the classroom of Josef Albers (below)."

On the whole I think the abstract pieces are more successful as art than their more realistic counterparts because the content better serves the form (and vice versa).

The first person the documentary shows breaking away from the pack and pushing aside the rigid rules of tradition is Paul Jackson. (Erik Demaine (above) breaks off in his own way as well, but he's featured last in the film). Jackson articulates -- especially through the examples of his paper sculptures -- everything I had always disliked about origami, and I started to see that there were various groups, theories, and philosophies behind paper folding. What I used to think of as "origami" was just a small part of it.

Paul Jackson: "In the mid 1980's, dissatisfied with the origami world's twin obsessions of complexity and literal representation, I began to experiment widely with technical and philosophical alternatives to folding paper as a model making activity. I wanted to make people ask 'why?' rather than 'how?', and to make objects that were aesthetically pleasing, not just clever."

Eventually the question of what can be made with a single crease started to interest him. It was a question originally meant as a casual joke, but after thinking about it he decided to take it as a challenge. One crease? Who could make anything with one crease? He started to experiment.

"This was my first series of explorations -- an attempt to examine what would
happen if only one crease was made on a sheet of paper. This may appear to be a ludicrous notion, but I found that it revealed unexpected riches. Eventually, it became not just a novel technique, but a complex philosophy of folding in contradiction to most of the tenets of model making origami.

The photos below show work folded from single uncut sheets. The red pieces are wet folded from 50cms squares of watercolour paper, brushed with raw watercolour pigment. The cream pieces are folded from 20cm squares of photocopier paper."

Below: a paper sculpture by Giang Dinh.

Jackson then moved on to what he calls "Organic Abstracts."

"This series was begun in the early 1990's and continues to the present day, with over 250 different pieces having been made. It arose from a combination of circumstances -- a technical discovery of how to make apparently curved ribs and a desire to make work which could be exhibited. I later realised I was not the first to use the 'rib' technique (a few origami creators had used it as a small detail in a complex model), though I have explored it with much greater rigour and it is now indelibly associated with my name.

The pieces are technically similar, though differ substantially in the detail. This creative focus on 'variation' rather than on a long series of unique models is intended to shift my attention somewhat away from the left-brain 'how?' of folding, towards a more right-brain focus on colour, shape and meaning. In this way, the pieces have a different creative emphasis to almost all other paper folded (origami) work, being less technical in concept. In my pieces, the technique is the servant, not the king.

Inspiration for the pieces comes from organic forms such as bacteria, seed heads and shells. Controversially for many origami purists, the paper is coloured with charcoal or dry pastel and sealed to create a surface with a matt lustre. I do this because the simple truth is that for me, untreated paper doesn't have the 'presence' of paper customised with pastel. This customisation of the surface somehow changes a model or a craft object into an art object.

The photographs below show work folded from single uncut sheets."

Here are three paper sculptures formed by pleat tessellations. They were created by math and computer science professor Goran Konjevod, who cited Paul Jackson's work as his inspiration.

Below: a mask by Joel Cooper.

Jackson then went on the explore "crumpling."

"After the minimalism of One Crease I explored the opposite -- a sheet of
paper full to bursting with as many creases as it could hold. Actually, the sheet must be crumpled in a precise and controlled way, but when done well has extraordinary elastic properties.

I confess that I've not fully explored the limits of this technique, but I regularly
teach it to Fashion/Textile students who have used it to create some excellent work in the manner of the Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake, but with a much greater vocabulary of form.

The undisputed master of this crumpling technique is the French paper folder Vincent Floderer. I taught him the rudiments of the technique in Paris in 1996, since when he has produced a series of folded pieces of increasing sophistication and beauty. I thank him for acknowledging me as the originator of the technique, but I salute his remarkable artistry and creative vision."

Vincent Floderer is part of a group who call themselves "Le Crimp." They're dubbed "The Anarchists" in Between the Folds because their philosophy (which breaks with tradition and, on the surface, looks to be chaotic) is vastly different from the majority of paper folders. One of the things I liked most about viewing the documentary was seeing how various people were able to figure out how to bring their own personality and point of view to something as simple as sheet of paper, even going as far as creating new techniques in order to better express themselves.

Some samples of Vincent Floderer's work.

The technique can also be used for realism.

Being slightly less ignorant about origami after watching Between the Folds, I've come to realize that a lot of the art of origami is indeed contained in the process. Some works can be bland and uninteresting as finished pieces but amazing and fascinating while they're being made. One of my favorite folders profiled in the film was Chris K. Palmer. He focuses on tessellations -- something that falls into the "puzzle" or "math" category of origami -- and seeing his finished products by themselves would have only reinforced my impression of origami as cute objects, sterile puzzles, etc. But watching him create his pieces was great. He folds and re-folds them in various ways, opening and closing them, repositioning them, forming various layered objects... Impossible to explain. I found it fascinating to watch him fold, and none of that exists or comes across in his finished products (which I don't really like). Palmer says that people looking at a finished piece of origami are only seeing 50% of it because the other half is about the process, and with his work this is particularly true.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

10 Lions and the End of the World

                                        in a national magazine of repute
                                        (yes, I was reading it)
                                        I saw a photograph of lions
                                        crossing a street
                                        in some village
                                        and taking their time;
                                        that's the way
                                        it should be
                                        and some day when
                                        they turn out the lights
                                        and the whole thing's over,
                                        I'll be sitting here
                                        in the chalky smoke
                                        thinking of those 10 damned
                                        (yes, I counted them)
                                        blocking traffic
                                        while the roses bloomed.
                                        we all ought to
                                        do that
                                        while there's

                                                                            —Charles Bukowski

protest riot rebellion resistance bukowski

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

shattering illusions

Have you, like me, been eating kiwifruit incorrectly your entire life? From day one I've been wrong about kiwi. I was taught to peel its outer skin with a knife, which, aside from being tedious, usually wastes a lot of pulp. (When I say "incorrectly" I mean any way that does not yield the highest net pulp and the lowest net time and effort.) I never once thought about doing it a different way.

Recently I was shown the correct way to eat kiwi. I know it's the correct way because there is no other way to eat kiwi more efficiently. It's very simple, and I'd like to share it with those of you who, like me, have been living in the dark ever since eating your first kiwi. In fact, it's so simple and obvious that, once you see the way, some of you might try to convince yourselves that you've been eating kiwi correctly all along. "Of course that's how I eat kiwi! There simply can be no other way to eat kiwi, and I wouldn't be foolish enough to try another way even if there was one!"

It's true. There is no other way to eat kiwi. I know this now that I know the correct way. I've finally come to terms with this. Believe me, I've thought about it for quite some time. I didn't want to be wrong about kiwi. I didn't want to have to acknowledge that my entire way of thinking about kiwi was wrong, but I was finally forced to admit it. And then I started to wonder: who has seen me eat kiwi? Did they know I was eating it incorrectly, or did they not know the correct way? If they knew the correct way, why didn't they tell me? Were they laughing at me? Was it disbelief? I will never know. And I'm forced to live with that.

Yes, I finally came to understand that I had indeed been wrong about kiwi, but just because I had this new knowledge and understanding didn't mean I wanted to forever change the way in which I ate kiwi! I thought about my options. The only other choice was to never eat another kiwi, not even in private. But kiwis are delicious. I wanted to eat them again. So, after trying my darndest to find a way out of my kiwi conundrum, I was left with no other choice but to change the way in which I eat kiwi. Those of you who are already living in this enlightened state -- perhaps because you were taught by an enlightened adult when you were a kid, or, more impressively, because you cracked the kiwi code on your own -- will no doubt be horrified to find out that many people spend their entire lives eating kiwi incorrectly. And, sadly, most of them don't even know it. Please forgive them. And teach them.

* * *

The correct way to eat kiwi.

1.) Acquire a ripe kiwi.

2.) Get a knife (any kind will do). Note: this method does not require you to wash the kiwi.

3.) Find the center of the kiwi and cut the kiwi in half. (Don't be embarrassed if you end up with a 60 / 40 split on your first try. It takes practice.)

                                                                      sometimes the kiwi will emit a glow of light (happiness)
                                                                      when it realizes it is about to be eaten correctly

4.) Get a spoon. Dig in and scrape the fruit from the skin. Get close but not too close. Eat the kiwi residing on your spoon. (This is doubly enjoyable if you have a few kiwis and take them outside to eat with a friend on a nice summer day.)

5.) Repeat until the pulp is gone.

6.) Smile with deep satisfaction. The leftover shell of the kiwi should be composted, made into a hat, or thrown into the woods. Use a regular trash can if you have no other option. The most highly skilled eaters may wish to use their shell as a drinking cup. Less highly skilled eaters should not attempt this because the cup will leak.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Happy Labor Day from Heinrich Böll! or: To Work or Not to Work

Heinrich Böll's short story Anecdote to the Decline of the Work Ethic was written in 1963 for a May Day program on German Radio. I had originally planned to post it on May Day earlier this year, but it slipped my mind. The story is pretty well known — Wikipedia informs me that it's been widely circulated on the Internet — so perhaps some of you have already read it (or heard some version of it).

Anecdote to the Decline of the Work Ethic is one of the most successful stories I've come across in terms of exposing the absurdity of not just wage-slavery but any life built upon, and comprised of, quiet accumulation. With its very simple story and very simple language it strips bare the lie of increased productivity, revealing a life of increased net worth as its own kind of slavery. The story also reminds me of an argument I had recently at a wedding where someone told me that, in a world without money, there would be no incentive to work and people would become lazy. Böll's short story urges us to think about "work" and "laziness" in ways very different from how we're normally asked (or taught) to understand them.

Daniel Quinn once asked a powerful question that also pairs nicely with Böll's story: Why does civilization grow food, lock it up, and then make people earn money to buy it back.

* * *

monet sunset
In a harbor on the west coast of Europe, a shabbily dressed man lies dozing in his fishing boat. A smartly dressed tourist is just putting a new roll of color film into his camera to photograph the idyllic picture: blue sky, green sea with peaceful, snowy whitecaps, black boat, red woolen fisherman's cap. Click. Once more: click and, since all good things come in threes and it's better to be safe than sorry, a third time: click. The snapping, almost hostile sound awakens the dozing fisherman, who sleepily sits up, sleepily gropes for his cigarettes, but before he has found what he is looking for the eager tourist is already holding a pack under his nose, not exactly sticking a cigarette between his lips but putting one into his hand, and a fourth click, that of the lighter, completes the overeager courtesy. As a result of that excess of nimble courtesy — scarcely measurable, never verifiable — a certain awkwardness has arisen that the tourist, who speaks the language of the country, tries to bridge by striking up a conversation.
        "You'll have a good catch today."
        The fisherman shakes his head.
        "But I've been told the weather's favorable!"
        The fisherman nods.
        "So you won't put to sea?"
        The fisherman shakes his head, the tourist grows more and more uncomfortable. It is clear that he has the welfare of the shabbily dressed man at heart and that disappointment over the lost opportunity is gnawing at him.
        "Oh, I'm sorry — aren't you feeling well?"
        At last the fisherman switches from a sign language to the spoken word.
"I feel fine," he says. "I've never felt better." He stands up, stretches as if to demonstrate his athletic build. "I feel terrific."
        The tourist's expression grows steadily more unhappy, and he can no longer suppress the question which, as it were, threatens to burst his heart: "But why, then, do you not put to sea?"
        The answer comes promptly and briefly: "Because I already put to sea this morning."
        "Did you make a good catch?"
        "My catch was so good that I need not put to sea for a second time. I had four lobsters in my baskets, caught nearly two dozen mackerel..."
        The fisherman, finally awake, is now thawing, and slaps the tourist soothingly on the shoulder. The worried countenance of the latter seems to him an expression of inappropriate, yet touching, anxiety.
        "I have enough even for tomorrow and the day after tomorrow," he says to relieve the stranger's soul. "Do you want a cigarette?"
        "Yes, please."
        Cigarettes are being put into mouths, a fifth click; the stranger, shaking his head, sits down on the rim of the boat, and puts down the camera, for now he needs both hands to give his speech emphasis.
        "I do not want to meddle in your personal affairs," he says, "but just imagine if you put to sea today for a second, a third, or perhaps even a fourth time, and you catch three, four, five, maybe even ten dozen mackerel. Just imagine that!"
        The fisherman nods.
        "You put to sea," continues the tourist, "not only today but tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, indeed, on every favorable day two, three, of perhaps four times — do you know what would happen?"
        The fisherman shakes his his.
        "In one year at the latest you would be able to buy a motor, in two years a second boat, in three or four years you may, perhaps, have a small trawler; with two boats or the trawler you would, of course, catch a lot more — one day, you would have two trawlers, you would...," for a few moments his enthusiasm leaves him speechless, "you would build a small cold store, perhaps a smoke-house, soon afterwards a marinating factory, fly around with your own helicopter, making out the shoals of fish and giving orders to your trawlers by radio. You could buy the fishing right for salmon, open a fish restaurant, export lobster directly to Paris without a middleman — and then...," once again his enthusiasm leaves him speechless. Shaking his head, saddened in the depth of his heart, and almost bereft of this holiday delights, he looks on the waters rolling peacefully into the harbor, where the uncaught fish jump merrily.
        "And then," he says, but again his excitement leaves him speechless. The fisherman slaps him on the back, as one would slap a child choking over his food. "What then?" he asks in a low voice.
        "Then," says the stranger with restrained enthusiasm, "then, without a care in the world, you could sit here in the harbor, doze in the sun — and look at the glorious sea."
        "But I'm already doing that," says the fisherman. "I sit here in the harbor without a care in the world and doze — it was only your clicking that disturbed me."
        And so the thus enlightened tourist walked pensively away, for at one time he had believed that he was working so as to someday not have to work any more; and there remained in him not a trace of pity for the fisherman in shabby clothes, only a little envy.

PhotobucketAlamar (Pedro González-Rubio, 2009)