With “Folding Paper,” Bellevue Arts Museum redefines the craft in origami exhibit

With “Folding Paper,” Bellevue Arts Museum redefines the craft in origami exhibit

rosemary.ponnekanti@thenewstribune.comMay 30, 2014 

What do an icosidodecahedron, a heart stent, a solar-power space array and a skeleton have in common? If you said “science,” you’d be forgiven, but the Bellevue Arts Museum is offering up “origami” as the answer.

The museum is hosting a groundbreaking international touring exhibit of how this paper-based art has evolved into math and science, and it will pull apart – and refold – your idea of origami itself.

The math begins at the top of the museum’s grand staircase. Complicated spheres of twisted flowers by Krystyna and Wojtek Burczyk are sculpted from identical modular units. Sure, they break some origami “rules” by being either glued or stitched, but they’re nevertheless impressive in their precise beauty, embodying a sculptural solidity with fragile matter. They also recreate flowers — a red rose, a bursting yellow peony — with mathematical precision.

In the next case, Tom Hull’s complicated geometric shapes defy simple math (and pronunciation). Here’s the icosidodecahedron (with 32 sides) made of 60 4-inch paper squares intricately folded; another holds 180 squares in powerful, smooth colors.

Behind them is a mini-gallery of complex geometry. Jeannine Mosely’s two-dimensional wall relief of sail-like interlocking concave triangles is mounted cleverly on Mediterranean-blue fabric. Robert Lang’s “Hyperbolic Limit” is a sunburst of gold triangles spiraling out from a hexagon. And Linda Tomoko Mihara’s delicate cube and sphere are actually made of a single sheet of paper, cut and folded into dozens of interconnecting cranes – the emblematic origami symbol made structural.

Walk past Mihara’s fairy-tale sheath dress, made of a single sheet of white parchment pinched into ruches with matching spiky paper shoes, and you’ll hit the science wing. There’s the abstract, like the teal “Whirlpool Pattern” flowing from gridded square tessellations (a tile pattern folded into itself like a complicated cell structure) by Tomoko Fuse. And there’s the bio-skeletal: Eric Gjerde’s “Vertebral Stretch,” giving a rectangle of inwardly folded elephant hide a curvy, three-spined torso curving.

There’s the practical: A street map of Nara (the famous park near Tokyo) in the form of a single sheet with glued cardboard covers that pulls out and folds in with a single move – origami invented by a Japanese astrophysicist and now used to create solar arrays that power space shuttles. Nearby is a tent, supported by a geodesic bamboo structure and made of plastic; it, like the map, neatly folds into a small surface.

And then, mind-blowingly, an origami prototype for the heart stent. Complex, tiny and able to shrink and expand like a Chinese finger trap, it becomes the life-saving plastic object that can swim into blocked arteries and push them open to allow blood flow.

There’s also an unfolded origami pattern invented by physicist and artist Robert Lang that translated into the powerful Eyeglass space telescope. (Handy photos of these real-world applications dot the galleries).

But the physics doesn’t stop at practical. Erik and Martin Demaine tease the eye around and around with a coiled, three-wave Mobius-strip of pleated paper; Andrea Russo uses a similar technique to sculpt a Zen-like circle. There are shells, spines, bowls – and an 18-inch hexagonal vase, smooth and strong as alabaster – all paper.

And not just ordinary paper. Tissue paper creates a fluttering anemone; thick, fibrous kozo paper creates felt-like folds; waxy white pergamo paper is folded in and out into a giant limpet colony. There’s the silk-like gampi paper, the thick strength of watercolor paper, patterned washi paper, paper hand-colored with pastels.

The exhibit (organized by the Japanese American National Museum and curated by Meher McArthur) goes on and on through wonder after wonder. Sipho Mabona’s brilliant installation “The Plague” flies in your face as you enter the room: a squadron of oversized, scary insects hanging in formation from the ceiling and folded out of dollar bills. Around them are more Victorian-like specimens folded out of paper: a fierce tiger mask, a flock of nun-like penguins, a smoothly chiseled snake head, and – snarky humor – a petrified brain, molded out of bubbly gray paper and labeled by Brian Chan “The Long Term Effects of an MIT Education.” When top engineers make art, it’s not your average exhibit.

Then the origami gets playful, drawing on its history as a Japanese childhood pursuit. There are folded frogs, scorpions, dinosaur skeletons, Pokemon monsters. There’s an incredible 4-foot-high plant with thin green paper tendrils, exotic pink paper flowers and accordion-pleated leaves. A pangolin perches, its hide like crisp paper armor. Masks stare from cases, their tessellated surfaces flowing like etched clay.

The final gallery of origami history is fascinating, from the photographs of the Hiroshima peace memorial, to Sadako and her thousand paper cranes, to an 1896 color woodblock print by Miyagawa of kids in kimonos making origami. Beyond that is a studio where families can fold their own paper creations and hang them on the wall.

But perhaps the most exquisite creation of all, embodying both the craft and the imagination that is origami, is Giang Dinh’s “Fly.” Paired with a Hokusai print of a magician turning paper into live birds by throwing it up in the air, the sculpture emerges from a single sheet of white paper, folding inward and inward as it rises in the air until finally it becomes a pair of tiny origami cranes – paper taking on three-dimensional life.

BAM Origami

What: “Folding Paper: The infinite possibilities of origami” exhibit

Where: Bellevue Arts Museum, 510 Bellevue Way NE, Bellevue

When: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. first Fridays through Sept. 21

Cost: $10 adults; $8 seniors, students, military; free for those younger than 6 and first Fridays

Information: 425-519-0770, bellevuearts.or

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568


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