The Lister List

Paper Folding & Sculpture

In recent postings on this topic there has been an implicit querying of the relationship between Paper Folding and Paper Sculpture. The distinction that is made appears to be between "dry" origami, with its fixed reference points and the kind of folding techniques employed by such folders as Akira Yoshizawa, Alfredo Giunta and Eric Joisel, and particularly relates to the technique we know as "wet folding".

As always, it is necessary to decide what we mean by the words we use. Sculpture is the art of creating three-dimensional models, (hopefully having artistic merit) for visual appreciation. The traditional subjects of sculpture have been mainly, but not entirely, the representation of living beings, of famous people, saints, divinities and devils, and sometimes also of animals, but sculpture has ranged wider than that. For instance, it includes a wide range of decorative features for gardens. The traditional medium has been stone or clay and the initial model has frequently been cast in metal. In the past hundred years or so, sculpture has widened its field of content to include much abstract sculpture. The materials used have also been much extended and include, for instance welded rolled steel joists and heaps of garbage.

Sculpture is more closely linked to architecture than most people recognise. There are several differences. An architectural creation is usually much larger; architecture is utilitarian rather than merely representational or decorative, although it is often both of these as well. Principally, however, architecture is different from sculpture because it has an interior and is intended to be entered. Indeed, in much of architecture (such as a gothic cathedral) the interior is considered to be more important than the exterior.

Where does paperfolding fit into this? Obviously a paperfolded model of any kind is sculpture, although we may, perhaps except solely utilitarian paperfolds. And this is true even of those models which are not recognised for being "sculpted", like those of Yoshizawa and Joisel. Whatever the fascination of folding it, the finished model stands there in front of you to be looked at and admired. Incidentally, it is that that gives an origami model protection as a work of art under the Copyright Acts.

What is the source of the distinction between "dry-folded" origami and wet-folded origami? The answer lies in people's perceptions of the act of sculpting. A sculptor is usually seen as chiselling away at a block of stone to create his sculpture. Or he may model his creation out of a plastic material such as clay or plaster. The fact that sculptors use other processes such as oxy-acelyline welding or wax perdue techniques does not alter the general perception of what a sculptor actually does. So, wet folding, which presents the possibility of moulding ["molding" in American English] the wet paper is seen as "sculpture". Merely folding creases and assembling the model without wet folding does not fit in with this generally accepted perception of what sculpture is. It is for this reason that we have this discussion of Paperfolding versus Paper Sculpture. In my mind, the distinction is fallacious. Both are sculpture.

But there is a further distinction. "Paper Sculpture" exists in its own right as a separate paper craft or paper art. The "Paper Sculpture" to which I refer is a craft which employs extensive cutting of the medium which may be paper or it may be thin card. The paper or card is folded and also scored along straight and curved lines and creased along the scores. It is twisted, bent, crumpled, has holes cut and punched into it to give it texture, and it may be folded into steps and fan-shapes. Any technique, in fact may be used to build up a paper bas-relief or sculpture. Stapling and gluing is regularly employed. It is, in fact, the very antithesis of paper folding with its strict rules about what is or is not permitted. Paper sculpture in consequence is far removed from the origami of Yoshizawa and even of Eric Joisel.

Paper Sculpture in this sense became particularly popular in the years following the Second Word War and I remember it as being widespread during the years following the Festival of Britain on 1951, taking on the particular style of decorative art fashionable at that time. One of the paper sculptors I particularly remember was Arthur Sadler, whose book, "Paper Sculpture" went into several editions in England. But there were other paper sculptors, including Michael Garter, who published simpler books of paper sculpture for children. One of his books was called "One Piece of Paper" and it is interesting that Eric Kenneway became interested in Michael Graters' work and attended his classes. Quickly, however, he discovered true paper folding and changed his allegiance. As a devotee of origami, it have never ceased to wonder at the division of paper craftsmen into two camps: those who revel in paperfolding and those for whom it simply has no attraction! In America, one of the most influential boos of paper sculpture was "Creating with Paper", by Pauline Johnson (published in 1958, the year of formation of the Origami Center.) Lillian Oppenheimer made a point of meeting her. Two notable books which came later were both in German. The were Kurt Londenberg: "Papier und Form" (1972) and Franz Zeier, "Papier Versuche Zwiischen Geometrie und Spiel". (A shortended English version of this book ws published in 1974 with the title "Paper Construcions".) The array of paper techniques demonstrated by such books and others like them is dazzling and I cannot help but think that the creative paperfolder looking for ideas could find in them rich seams to mine for his or her own art. I believe it is for this reason that the British Origami Society includes in its constitution the following statement which reads:

"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".

To summarise:

1. All Paperfolding or Origami is sculpture.

2. Some styles of paperfolding, (especially "Wet folding") use techniques which are akin to those popularly seen to be "sculptural", but this does not mean that paperfolding styles not using those techniques are not also sculpture.

3. In consequence of this, it would be wrong to use the term "Origami Sculpture" for paperfolding using wet-folding techniques.

4. The term "paper sculpture" as already been appropriated as the name for a very different paper craft which stands in its own right, but which employs many techniques which are at first sight alien to paper folding.

5. This should not prevent us, as paperfolders, from learning from other paper crafts and, extending our own skills.

David Lister Grimsby, England.

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