Timed to mark the 55th anniversary of a pioneering origami exhibit in the United States, also shown at Cooper Union, "Surface to Structure" illustrates just how far the art form has come.
Showstoppers include undulating, robotic origami triggered by wall-mounted motion sensors; large, modular, pleated panels and sculptures; clothing; folded sculptures in stainless steel and cast-bronze; and even two polymer-gel micro-origami figures, less than a millimeter in size and displayed using a photographic technique that allows a 3-D shape to be reconstructed from a series of 2-D fluorescent images.
Many of the works in the show are representations of animals, but contemporary techniques allow for detail and texture unheard of decades ago.
While traditional origami entails folding and then unfolding to see the crease on the page, many of these works use mathematical algorithms and computer-aided designs to create complex crease patterns first. The folds come later.
Other works feature a technique called wet-folding: wiping the paper with a wet sponge or cloth before folding. The moisture loosens the paper fibers, allowing for smooth curves instead of the more traditional sharp creases.
"The curves are a lot softer and the creases actually stronger with wet-folding," explained Uyen Nguyen, 22, who curated the show and made one of the works featured.
Wet-folding allows for the voluptuous curves of a lion's shaggy mane or the billows surrounding a unicorn that appears to be standing in the wind, and also works of elegant simplicity like "Dreamer," by Vietnamese-American artist Giang Dinh, or "Lying Woman," by Vietnamese artist Nguyen Tu Tuan.
Other pieces feature an improvisational technique using crumpled tissue paper. Known as "le crimp," it allows for a rich and detailed texture, exemplified by the work "Cierbol," by Spanish artist Victor Couerjoly of Spain. The figure of a deer whose neck gives way to gnarled tree branches instead of an antlered head is roughly textured and made from dark brown paper; the result is virtually indistinguishable from tree bark.
"It's totally different from traditional origami techniques, which are all about deliberate precision," Nguyen said.
The fashion submissions, however, were the ones that surprised her most. "I hadn't even expected to include a fashion section, but it ended up being an important part of it," she said.
Included are several origami dresses and hats, a delicately folded parasol, two handbags, jewelry, and even an ornate, fingerless glove made of laser-cut, tessellated snakeskin by American artist Adrienne Sack. Tessellation, an origami technique developed in the 1970s, consists of a large sheet of paper folded to construct a relative flat geometric pattern. Only recently has origami tessellation been taken to a more three-dimensional level.
In the show's science section, one wall features a work entitled "Oribotics (The Future Unfolds)," by Austrian artist Matthew Gardiner. The undulating robotic origami flowers open and close only when a viewer comes near.
"The techniques of origami are continually advancing," said Nguyen.
Although she made paper cranes and other typical origami shapes as a child, her hobby started in earnest after she was given a book on sophisticated origami patterns soon after starting college at Cooper Union. She launched an origami club, whose members began making modular structures consisting of interlocking segments. "Then I went to a big origami convention and it became a serious passion," she said.
For this exhibit, which runs through Thursday (July 3), she and her colleagues contacted origami clubs around the world in search of submissions. The show is evenly divided between more established origami artists like Robert J. Lang (of the polymer-gel, micro-origami team) and younger artists, including 13-year-old Sejin Park of Korea, who contributed a black dragon.