Thursday, December 17, 2009

Origami and the art of everything

By Joe Maniscalco

If you’ve ever found it impossible to properly fold a road map, you will be absolutely astonished by what the folks profiled in Park Slope filmmaker Vanessa Gould’s new documentary airing on WNET-TV later this month can do with a single scrap of paper.

Part of PBS’ “Independent Lens” series, “Between the Folds” looks at origami and the intriguing nexus where art and science intersect on paper.

Neither adding nor subtracting anything, origami is the traditional art of paper folding that involves a single sheet of uncut paper deftly manipulated by hand to produce virtually any subject the mind can conjure.

“The cool thing is not that an artist or a mathematician is doing origami,” Gould (pictured) says. “It’s that they are both doing origami.”

Whether driven by complex formulas or divine inspiration, the kinds of origami featured in “Between the Folds” approaches the miraculous. Bands of woodland gnomes finger delicate flutes and fiddles, while writhing dragons flex fiersome claws and hundreds of individually detailed scales. Incredibly complex geometric shapes seemingly imported from the upper dimensions appear to breathe and bend with uncanny power.

“Everything folds,” artist Paul Jackson says in the documentary. “The air when we speak...our DNA.”

Gould began working on “Between the Folds” as a first-time filmmaker five years ago. At the time she resolved to find the best people - animators, composers and editors, with whom should could collaborate.

She found everyone she was looking for right here in Brooklyn.

“I was so thrilled looking for people to work with,” Gould says. “There is so much creative and talented energy in Brooklyn.”

Even with a background in both music and the sciences, the Boston transplant nevertheless had little knowledge of origami itself.

All that soon began to change, however, after meeting Professor Tom Hull, a mathematics professor at Western New England College who uses complex origami as a visual and theoretical model to teach his students.

From there, Gould went on to discover more about the surprising world of origami meeting other practitioners like MacArthur “Genius” Fellow Dr. Erik Demaine and celebrated French artist Eric Joisel.

Like origami itself, the process of filming “Between the Folds” was intense, complex and exhausting. Gould was turned down 10 different times for grants.

Throughout it all, the burgeoning documentarian says she experienced her own kind paper-like metamorphosis.

“I always felt like I was trying to become something else,” Gould says. “It felt so natural.”

Process lies at the heart of “Between the Folds” where the act of creating art proves to be just as fascinating, as the actual product.

“When you’re looking at a finished piece of origami, it’s hard to see how special the process is,” Gould explains. “It completely redefines your appreciation for it. The process is a really important part. Nobody talks about how a painting gets painted.”

“Between the Folds” airs on December 27 at 10 p.m.


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