The Lister List

Origami v Paper Folding

In his posting on 24th October Paul Jackson raises several very interesting matters for discussion. Not least interesting is his concept of "folding" which he teaches to students of Fashion Design, Product Design, Ceramics, Architecture, Jewellery. The wider application of folding is one that deeply interests me.

However, in this posting I want to consider the use of the word "Origami" outside of Japan. It originated as a Japanese word, but is it correct to use it for paperfolding outside of Japan? I was recently asked privately whether it was appropriate to use the word "Origami" for Chinese paperfolding and I felt obliged to advise that I did not think that this would be at all appropriate. But then, to take the matter a stage further, is it legitimate to call Western paperfolding "Origami"?

The word "Origami" has been used in the West for some forty-five years since Lillian Oppenheimer deliberately adopted "Origami", partly because she thought that it was a more attractive word than "paperfolding" and partly because she found that when she used the word "paperfolding" people thought merely of papercrafts in general and not the specific kind of paperfolding which we all recognise now as "Origami". Even in Japan, the use of the word "origami" for recreational papefolding is no more than about one hundred years old. It appears to hve been adopted in Japanese schools as a word which children could use without difficulty. Before that the word "Origami" had been used as a word for a certificate analogous to the western "diploma" and later as just one of several words used for ceremonial paperfolding, mainly the folding of wrappers or "tstutsumi".

Today, I freely use the word "Origami" for informal purposes. It has unquestionably been absorbed into English and other languages and to try to revert to "paperfolding" would not only be impossible, but would be perverse. However, when I am writing on more serious aspects of paperfolding, I deliberately use the word "paperfolding" unless the paperfolding is Japanese. In a Japanese context it is clearly appropriate to call it "origami". I would never use "origami" for Chinese paperfolding, only in part because I remember Philip Shen protesting strongly about the general adoption of a Japanese word for what he considered to be Chinese in origin.

Lillian Oppenheimer started using the word "origami" in the mid 1950s and the use of it caught on rapidly. By the time the Origami Porfolio Society was founded in 1965, it seemed normal, and indeed, automatic to use the word "origami" to the exclusion of "paperfolding". However, even then, I, myself, had difficulties with the word. I did not consider that all kinds of paperfolding could be called "origami". In particular, I didn't think that it applied to pleated paperfolding of the kind used in bellows, accordions, cameras, umbrellas and lamp shades. Pleated paperfolding (later the subject of Eric Hawkesworth's book "Pleated Paper Folding", 1975) seemed to be a separate subject. I would also have excluded zig-zag folding and, had I been able to see into the future, the work of such folders as Jean-Claude Correia and certainly Vincent Floderer. Their work does not conform to what, in the mid 1960s, I conceptualised a "Origami".

But what was and what is the essence of this restricted concept of paperfolding properly called "Origami"? Paul Jackson writes that it has come to mean "an easily recognisable representation in folded paper of an easily recognisable subject (elephant, star, etc.). In other words "origami" is and always has been a specifically model making practice."

This get closer to what I was thinking about, but not entirely. For instance, many abstract forms come within my concept of "origami", whereas it is possible to make "models" using those pleated and other folding techniques which, in the 1960s, I would have excluded. I was thinking more of the innate structure of the work and not merely of its result as a model.

I am still groping towards an identification of what made "origami" what I thought "origami" it was. In its essence I am coming to think that two factors re involved.. The first is the creation of reverse folds. The second is the further folding of paper that had already been folded, in other words, the superimposition of creases. These two factors result in the formation of (too use John Smith's expressive term) "surplus" within the model which can be then be used for further folding. ) However, my ideas about this and what essentially makes "mainstream origami" what it is are still evolving..

When the members of the Origami Portfolio Society came to form themselves into the British Origami Society in 1967, it seemed desirable to include a definition of "origami" in the Constitution. I have to confess to having been the initial draughtsman. The basic definition the Society came up with, in those early days, so long ago, was the following:

"(1) The Society defines origami as the folding of paper of any regular shape to from two or three dimensional models of living creatures, inanimate objects an abstract forms.

"(2) While the Society holds that Origami in its purest form does not admit the cutting of paper, the Society does not exclude cutting provided that it is limited in extent, adds significantly to the value of the model and provided that the model retains the main characteristics of uncut Origami.

"(3) The Usual medium of Origami is paper, but the Society recognises that the techniques of folding may be applied to other materials.

"(4) The Society recognises techniques of manipulating and cutting paper other than Origami and seeks to foster the interchange of ideas between the pursuit of origami and other paper techniques."

Many new members of the Society hve probably read that definition with mystification and no doubt, with amusement!

Since then, as our appreciation of paper folding has increased, the Council of the Society has several times considered whether the definition should be changed. One suggestion was "The art and science of folding paper", or even "The art and science of folding." But it was generally thought that the existing definition really was a workable one and anyway it was a historical statement which should be preserved.

Looking back on it, I find the British Origami Society definition of "Origami" fascinating in many different ways. For instance, it gets round the eternal question of "to cut or not to cut". It seeks not to be too restrictive, but without surrendering the essential meaning and integrity of "mainstream Origami". It recognises that folding is not confined to paper and it seeks to keep open the door to cross-fertilisation from other paper techniques, such as paper sculpture.

Paul Jackson has referred to the work of John-Claude Correia and Vincent Floderer as falling outside what is properly called "origami". The work of neither artist was envisaged in 1967, but even so, I think that the BOS definition is wide enough to comprehend them. I would also point out that much of Paul Jackson's own work, whether it is in the field of minimalistic folding or in the creation of exquisite cross-pleated bowls, also falls outside what I, personally, would consider to be "origami". Indeed, in his books and in particular in his "Encyclopedia of Origami and Papercraft Techniques", Paul has taught us that in art all boundaries are artificial and that we should keep ourselves open to the persuasions of art and creativity, wherever they are found. Within this field of creativity, paperfolding has its place as just one technique or style among countless others.

I would differ from Paul, however, when he says at the end of his posting that Origami is not paperfolding. Origami is certainly paperfolding, but it is one particular kind of paperfolding which rightly deserves separate recognition as something in its own right and with its own identity. But should invariable call it by the Japanese name of "Origami?"

David Lister

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