Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Origami (1)

(I have two entries on origami in my inbox, so here they are as a one-two punch. This first one is by Rachel. Thank you Rachel!)

Origami—Paper Miniatures of the World

Around a thousand years ago, if you weren’t a member of the Japanese nobility, you would have almost certainly been too poor to afford paper for origami (or 折り紙 a compilation of the word oru, to fold and kami, or paper). A few hundred years after that, in the Muromachi period, paper had become cheap enough that it could be used by everyone, but your class would have been obvious based on which style you folded your paper in, as only the Samuri folded in the Ise manner, while farmers and peasants folded in the style of the Ogasawara school.(Engel, 23-24). It was only in the Tokugawa or Edo period (1603-1867) that class was no longer a factor in origami. In this period a variety of innovations were made in origami as well, such as the creation of the bird base (, which can be used (somewhat predictably) to form the orizuru, or paper crane ( and its clumsier but movable cousin, the flapping bird ( as well as a variety of patterns that aren’t related to birds at all. It is in this period as well that the oldest surviving origami book was written--Hiden Senbazuru Orikata or, How to Fold One Thousand Paper Cranes ( which included instructions for how to make the bird base, as well as instructions for paper cranes connected in a variety of manners ranging from the beautiful to the ridiculous. (Engel, 24) Although nowadays cutting the paper is viewed as a kind of heresy, at least in the western origami world, cutting the paper into a variety of interconnected squares is necessary to created all but the simplest design in this book. Although origami itself did not originate solely in Japan, nor exclusively in China, where the Japanese borrowed it from, origami originating from Japan in particular is a prime example of the art of miniaturization. Like a haiku seeks to conjure up an entire scene from its three lines, origami uses a small piece of paper to create a plant, animal or even a mountain. (Engel, 23) Although more recently many (particularly western) origami creators have sought to make exact representations of what they are representing, some of the most beautiful origami designs capture what they are seeking to represent in stylizations that reach to its essence.

Regardless of whether what is created is stylized or an attempt at a more technically correct representation, all origami creators must work from the single sheet of paper. Although the texture of the paper, or its colour or size may differ, all designs in origami are constrained to this one sheet of paper, and to some (relatively) simple folds. In Taoism, this square is seen as a sort of first form, as it were, (Engel) and it is then from this form that all others can begin to arise in the world of origami. Given the constraint that is contained in this single piece of paper, some origami artists liken the process of folding a plant or animal from a piece of paper to one of creation, starting with a sort of primordial nothingness, and gradually progressing from there to the final form. In this manner, then, origami becomes not only a miniaturization of what it seeks to represent, but a miniaturization of the creation of that thing as well.
~guest blogger, Rachel Katler