There’s no denying its elegant beauty, but the importance of a designer’s dress pattern seems inconsequential among the examples of how the art of origami has played a role in engineering, architecture and technology.
But that’s the point of “Folding Paper: The Infinite Possibilities of Origami,” which runs through Sunday, Sept. 27, at the Louisiana Art & Science Museum. The show is filled with examples of everyday products that resulted from the simple act of folding a piece of paper.
The smartphone is one such product.
“People are surprised when they see this,” says Elizabeth Weinstein, the museum’s curator. “Origami has played a role in the development of air bags, space telescopes and heart stents. While origami displays may typically include aspects of design and math, on view here are objects that exemplify origami’s contributions to contemporary lifestyles, bridging the gap between art, science and even history.”
“Folding Paper” is a traveling show curated by Meher McArthur and organized by the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles along with International Arts & Artists of Washington, D.C. It is the first major exhibition to explore the rich tradition of paper folding both in Japan and Europe and features 140 works by more than 50 international artists.
The show, which occupies the museum’s main galleries and the Soupcon Gallery, begins with what is probably the earliest and best-known origami figure, the crane. Japanese artist Shuntei Miyagawa’s 1896 woodblock print, “Children Making Origami Crane,” depicts how this art has been handed down from one generation to the next. But origami was around much earlier than the 19th century.
“Paper was introduced to Japan from China around the 6th century AD,” the exhibit label states. “Japanese paper folding is assumed to have begun sometime afterward, when priests in the native Shinto tradition performed purification rituals using wands made with zigzag strips of folded white paper known as ‘shide.’”
“The first part of the show includes more traditional objects, and explains how long origami has been around,” Weinstein says. “There are books on origami with one being published in 1897. And there’s the crane, which is the symbol of peace.”
The show progresses to the work of Japanese artist Akira Yoshizawa, who is credited with elevating origami to a sophisticated fine art form in the contemporary world.
Yoshizawa lived 20 years in poverty perfecting his craft, developing thousands of new designs and pioneering the technique of “wet folding,” which allowed for sculptural modeling of details. He eventually found fame with the 1954 publication of his book, “Atarashii Origami Geijutsu,” or “New Original Art.”
The book is on display in the show, along with works by some contemporary artists who followed, including American physicist Robert J. Lang, who is represented by his pieces and the patterns he created to make them.
“You see the pieces in the exhibit cases and the patterns on the wall behind them,” Weinstein says. “It’s amazing to see how much paper goes into making one object.”
This is especially true of Lang’s scorpion. It is small and delicate, yet Lang’s pattern shows that it requires just as much paper as the red-tail hawk and moose, two of his other pieces in the show.
Environmental biologist Brian Peyton’s piece captures a “Frog on a Leaf,” in full color.
“Perhaps because of his sensitivity to the environmental changes threatening many creatures in the natural world, Peyton creates highly resilient origami sculptures,” the exhibit label states.
Upstairs, the pieces are more abstract, some delicate, others popping with geometric color, with one of the most intriguing being Japanese artist Tomoko Fuse’s “Tessellation Mix Technique.”
It looks as if it could be an intricately stitched table runner, but the designs were folded from a single sheet of Washi paper. “This is one of my favorites, because it’s so delicate,” Weinstein says.