The Art & Science of Origami

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I wrote the following post on a personal blog of mine in Spring 2011 in response to a documentary, Between the Folds, by Vanessa Gould.  It has returned as an inspiration source this week, and I thought it could be interesting to repost my initial response and more recent response.  I hope you will take some time to enjoy viewing it on your own while the Winter months still keep us indoors. I am constantly awestruck when the arts and sciences deeply inspire my imagination in teaching and relating to the world of movement.

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Between the Folds is about the art and science of folding paper.  All experts in this film honored the tradition of origami but this documentary takes the viewer so much deeper into understanding the practice beyond its roots.

One piece of paper.

Wild, intricate, lifelike shapes of animals and faces by some artists.

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Deceivingly simple, minimalist modern shapes by others.

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There was a mindful artist, Chris K. Palmer, who had practiced ways to fold the paper so that it had a life of its own after several folds.  The paper moved and turned inside out like dance.  He was appropriately named, “The Choreographer.”

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Dr. Erik Demaine, a physicist, blew my mind into a million pieces explaining how making one fold in paper ultimately proved a theory that several minds had tried to conquer for years.   Folding paper could explain life itself.  With each fold, we bend reality, time, space.  It is impossible to recreate the lesson with my words here.

Learning is one of my greatest passions.  Learning about a new world that opens my eyes to seeing what I already do or practice or teach with a fresh perspective are my favorite lessons of all.  Those “a-ha/lightbulb” moments are thrilling.

In teaching, I have often used origami as a way to explain using the limbs in dance or yoga.  Using language like “creasing” or “folding” encourages the body to be more gentle and mindful.  When we think about folding our bodies like paper, we redefine how to care for the material and focus on the task.  I encourage students to honor their bodies in movement, making distinct choices, instead of returning to old habits of abusing joints just to make familiar shapes or execute an impulse.

After seeing Between the Folds, I was aware of even more relationships between performers using the human body and artists folding paper:

We have one body.  They use one sheet of paper.

We train our bodies for hours each day, for years.

They will work on one piece for hours, even days or weeks.

Methods.  Practice.  Starting over.  Undoing.  Throwing away.  Repetition.  Reworking. Folds.  Creases.  Smoothing.  Accidents.  Improv.  Structure.

The lesson of Dr. Demaine also encouraged me to reflect on space and the body.  It can be argued that human movement constantly folds and creases space.  Every place we go is altered just because we went there and inserted our bodies in the space.  Every person we meet has his/her day defined by our interaction even if just passing them on the stairs of our apartment.   Every gesture has meaning both in intent and in form.  For performers this can give the craft a whole new relevance.  We manipulate time and space with our body, voice, music and interactions with other performers.  We find new passages and pathways.  We seek out uncharted territory in order to make folds.

The seeking of new folding space is action-packed with powerful responsibility.

Does it make you want to get out of your seat and seek a new space?  Go ahead.  Fold it in your own way.

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What struck me upon revisiting both the documentary in a recent viewing and my former post was how several of my initial observations still rung true. However, this time I was struck by Dr. Erik Demaine’s comment about how the memory of paper once you fold it is altered. This sentiment brought so much forward in the responsibility of how we work with our bodies and minds.  We are always making imprints in our memories with experiences, movements, habits, and thought patterns.  The study of neuroplasticity, a concept that our brains are dynamic and therefore changeable, also relates to our ability to make new imprints throughout our lives.  We can change things, but we can also accept new ways of working with our substance, our material, our matter.  Everything we expose ourselves to then becomes a source for a new “memory” or alteration in our substance.  Perhaps this is why sustainable mind/body and mind relaxation practices have become so welcome in the mix. 

Then there was this idea of one piece of flat paper and how three-dimensionality is just one fold away.  Sometimes I worry that our human existence of biped, upright, eyes-forward living can make us forget about our volume and expressive potential in space.  Just a simple breath can “fold” us and remind us that we have three-dimensional shape change potential as well.

The other aspect of this film which was a standout for me during this recent viewing was how creativity is not reserved just for the arts.  We might know this to be true, but it is always enjoyable to see examples.  Creative thinking and practicing is something that all people do when working.  When we form language to speak, it is a creative process.  When we shake hands with someone, it is a creative communication.  The artists, scientists, mathematicians, and physicists profiled in this documentary all worked with paper in unique styles.  Their destinations or theories may have varied in why paper was a medium they used but no one would argue that each person required dedication to creativity in opening up new possibilities. They worked with paper to learn something about our world to share with others.  The worlds of arts and sciences, though separated in academia and the halls of study, are not so different after all.

– TaraMarie Perri

Looking for inspiration or want to learn more?  Watch online here 

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Comments
3 Responses to “The Art & Science of Origami”
  1. Caitlyn Johansen says:

    Nice. I was just talking to a friend of mine about how artists often feel the need to drop all of their “academic pursuits ” to make art. However, I am a strong believer that there is an art to everything. I think that maybe our culture is a little too quick to separate the arts from academia. I am interested in what would happen if dance or yoga lived in the same realm as math and science.

    Also, I went to an arts magnet high school. Many of my academic teachers were very lax with our curriculum. There was an unspoken belief that the students were artists and therefor didn’t need to be as proficient in subjects outside of their craft. HELLO! This is so not okay!
    On the other hand, I had academic teachers that used my proficiency in dance to strengthen my knowledge of other subjects. I had an english teacher that I will never forget! I always came to her class with resistance. I was afraid of seeming dumb or uneducated. I came to tutoring by myself one day and she said to me. Writing is just like making dances. You have to get it all out. Then you have to draft and redraft and redraft. You have to sculpt what you write until the piece says exactly what you want it to say.
    BRILLIANT! This is what we do when we present a class theme we make our teaching accessible to a larger audience. How cool

    Caitlyn

  2. Molly McSherry says:

    I worked with a choreographer once who said “It’s not the dance that is sacred, but the space in which we dance that is sacred.” It really changes everything in a movement practice when the focus (especially that of the performer) is turned from the “moves” towards their relationship to space. Each motion is a fold in the paper, and perhaps we leave an impression on the space when we leave it. I find it difficult to put into words all of the images that are now bussing around in my head–but this post and the documentary have inspired such vivid pictures! Thank you for sharing.

  3. Jonathan Matthews says:

    It’s pretty amazing that we’re in this time right now where not only mind-body practices are becoming recognized and scientifically backed, but there have also been so much development in the science-humanities/art-academia debates. It peels away so much of the neurosis of strict categorization that too often overlooks subtle variation for the sake of fitting things together and keeping outsiders at the right distance. I would love to go back in time to observe the dude(tte) who was struck with the inspiration/boredom to, instead of filling the paper, fill the space with paper. It’s such a perfect metaphor in itself for the increase of cross disciplinary integration – an artform that is based entirely on using an object for its most seemingly un-utilitarian purpose giving way to so much truth about the universe.

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