Many people ask me what it means to be an origami constructivist. Quite simply, it means appreciating the functional aspects of origami folding as both a metaphor for intelligent design and practical usefulness. Origami takes a flat piece of paper and makes 3-dimensional shapes or recognizable figures through folding techniques. It is the multiplicity and rehabilitate of purposes that makes origami such a metaphor to live by.
To a certain extent, it is easy to see how any origami inherently has a dual purpose such as improving fine motor skills or learning about symmetry or geometry while at the same time creating beautiful or delicate object. In addition, we might also conceptually relate these folds to the linguistic or psychological bends and recurrences in our language and thought. Divesting origami of its admired ornamental and creative uses for ornamentation, and focusing on the mechanics of folding, we often similarly go repeat the same folds repeatedly, perhaps dividing the area in a fractal manner insofar as the pattern of the fold recurs on an increasingly smaller scale, or repeating the same fold on one side as we did on the other – on the left and right; on one “face” and on the reverse; in both the mirror and its inversion together… ultimately it is the repetition of the same folds that create the structural integrity of an individual piece. Understandably, this structural strength achieved through folding has informed many manufacturing, architectural and packaging designs that exist around us, as well as many common activities we never think about, yet perform in daily life. For instance many people keep a pair of socks together by folding the cuff of one sock over the other, or fold shirts or towels in a way they tuck into themselves to prevent disarray each time a person rummages through the drawer or shelf. Manufacturers of tissues use folds to ensure the next tissue in the box can be easily released. Even a dismantled paper lunch bag will reveal the art of the fold. As most campers could attest to, compressing a bulky tent or sleeping bag into its travel bag successfully really depends on folding patterns and techniques.
Linguistically we have a lot of metaphors in circulation to communicate our sense of folds in time and space. Psychological activity itself is also replete with references of recursion or return to a familiar or forgotten position. In nature we speak fondly of the unfolding of leaves and sprouts from their hulls which is mirrored in some of the manipulations of origami. People respond positively to such metaphors and stories of personal transformation, and speak with anticipation of waiting to see what unfolds next in narrative course.
Yet despite its ability to create beauty and organization, the fold is a rebellious gesture because it is the dimensional breakout of the 2-dimensional plane. A knothole on a piece of wood where the living tree was wounded and healed over can have dangerous consequences for the carpenter sawing through it should his saw buck or bow when it’s blade hits it. Just as a given piece of paper with a specific thickness and size will only fold so many times on itself until it resists being compressed further. Thus, the folds we make must be precise and not inadvertently wrinkled or double folded, for each crease, however accidental, counts towards the paper’s limit. Each subsequent fold depends on the accuracy and integrity of each previous fold, or else you could end up with a lopsided sculpture.
Truth be told, when practicing to make a new or challenging object in origami, many of the final products may wind up being lopsided. Although they may be disappointing aesthetically, they hold value to an origami constructivist because the errors or flawed folds hold the learning story. Some communities like the metaphor of quilting to ascribe the patchwork of various strengths and personalities within a town, where the image is somehow one where whole seems bigger than the sum of the pieces that are stitched together. For me, origami is the metaphor and a reminder for the individual in society with her layers of folds that lay concealed, unknown, yet familiar.