Artists reveal glory of origami


POSTED: Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The astounding film “;Between the Folds”; illustrates before our very eyes the philosophy of yin and yang. It documents where art and science interconnect and right- and left-brain activity meet. The focal point of all this harmonious converging, the sum of all the parts, lies in the seemingly unassuming art of origami.

“;When you look at a piece of paper, what do you see?”; the hourlong documentary asks in opening. Most don't see the vast realm of possibility inhabited by origami folders, who come from backgrounds as diverse as fine art, math and an assortment of sciences.

But first-time filmmaker Vanessa Gould immediately dives in to spotlight just that. She shows us how far origami has catapulted from its humble origins as child's pastime, with a visit to French artist Eric Joisel's studio.

A former sculptor, Joisel transforms square sheets of paper into lyrical caricatures that rival the work of Picasso. Joisel's application of origami is purely artistic; he likens his work to jazz, never creating the same piece twice.

His friend across the ocean, U.S. origami master Michael LaFosse, is the only origami artist in the world to make the medium itself. LaFosse creates papers in different colors and thickness for specific projects.





        Airs 10 p.m. today on KHET/PBS as part

        of the “;Independent Lens”; series

Another American, Chris K. Palmer, spends hours folding enormous sheets into layer upon layer of geometric patterns, experimenting with the interaction of light and movement in the paper.

The film delves into the evolution of origami, profiling Akira Yoshizawa, the father of modern origami, who raised the craft to the level of art. As origami took off worldwide, so did its complexity and application in the larger world.

While a complex origami piece in the 1960s entailed 20 to 30 folds, young origami artists today use hundreds of folds entailing as many hours to create such masterpieces as a 1,000-scaled dragon.

Today, origami is also put to practical use in the classroom to teach basic geometry and illustrate theoretical models.

Robert J. Lang gave up a physics career to explore the physics of folded paper, and his origami is so technical that his creations expressing mathematical ideas can be executed by only the nimblest fingers. Lang also designed of a foldable satellite lens that, after transport into space via rocket, unfurls.

Especially captivating is a profile of the brilliant Erik Demaine, who entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at age 12 and became its youngest tenured professor at 20.

Today, Demaine is one of the world's leading origami theorists, studying proteins in the human body and the way they fold. When a protein folds the wrong way, he explains, illness occurs. Demaine is hoping to develop mathematical models of folding proteins to help design custom drugs for such ailments as Alzheimer's and mad cow diseases.

In spotlighting the cream of the origami crop, from the beautifully emotive creations of Joisel to the progressive inquiry of Demaine, “;Between the Folds”; provides a riveting feast for the eye and mind.

But what makes the film most fascinating, uplifting even, is what it illustrates about human potential. After all, if the microcosmic realm of origami comprises such a spectrum of creative promise, the prospect of possibilities in the larger world are nothing short of awe-inspiring.