Monday, December 07, 2009

The Art and Science of Origami: Between the Folds

If you associate origami with the neglected craft section of your local bookstore, evidently you a bit behind the times. Firmly established as an artistic discipline during Japan’s Edo Era, in recent years origami has become the domain of theoretical physicists and postmodern artists. Their intricately folded creations definitely challenge preconceptions of the traditional art form in Vanessa Gould’s Between the Folds (trailer here), an Audience Award winner at this year’s Brooklyn International Film Festival, which airs tomorrow on most PBS affiliates as part of the current season of Independent Lens.

The conventional rules of origami are well established—no cutting, pasting or spindling. Only folding is allowed. However, those strict constraints actually open up a world of possibilities for artists like Eric Joisel, who creates remarkably expressive figures simply through folding. The French Joisel is an anomaly among folding artists, in that he likens his creative method to jazz improvisation. Most are far more premeditated in their approach to paper.

For many emerging paper artists, folding is as much about the underpinning Euclidean geometry as it is a form of artistic expression. Gould introduces viewers to folders like Dr. Robert J. Lang and Dr. Erik Demaine, who use folding to pursue cutting edge physics and mathematics. They even suggest some practical applications to their work, like airbag folding, though most of the rewards of their work still seem to be largely theoretical and artistic.

Most importantly, Between shows viewers a lot of really impressive folded creations. Indeed, the work of Joisel and the late Akira Yoshizawa, the Japanese artist considered the fountainhead of modernist origami, has a strikingly animated quality. However, probably the coolest sequence of the film records non-representational artist Chris K. Palmer’s kinetic process as he folds one of his elaborately geometric flower towers.

Between’s technical team, including cinematographer Melissa Donavan and animator Todd Sines, nicely capture the intricacies and delicacies of folded art. Gould conducts some insightful interviews that convey a genuine excitement for the evolving discipline. At just under sixty minutes, the film frankly leaves viewers wanting more. Well worth an investment of an hour’s time, Between airs on most PBS outlets on December 8th. Locally, look for it on Long Island’s WLIW on December 9th at 10:00 and later this month on New York Thirteen (December 27th, also at 10:00).