Above the Fold: New Expressions
in Origami at the DAI

Greene RecyclingDestructors VIII  by Erik Demaine and Martin Demaine

By Terri Gordon 

The latest exhibit at the Dayton Art Institute features origami, the ancient art of paper-folding. But this is not the origami of fortunetellers (what many would recognize as cootie-catchers) and peace cranes. This is an expansive set of visionary works that explore the boundaries of the art, as well as its practical applications. In Above the Fold: New Expressions in Origami, artists take origami where it has never been taken before.

“It is definitely not your third-grade origami, so to speak,” explains Dayton Art Institute Curatorial Assistant, Peter Doebler. “I think that’s what makes it really exciting. People do tend to think origami is this Japanese craft that little kids do, and it’s this little tiny piece of paper, and you make little cranes or frogs, and it is that, but what this show highlights is that origami has become a global phenomenon, and artists from all around the world are interested in what you can do with paper as an art form—folding it, but folding it in different ways—whether it’s crumpling it, whether it’s folding it traditionally, like origami, or doing all sorts of different things with it. So, it sort of expands the definition of what origami is.”

Of course, practical application has always been part of the origami tradition. From envelopes and napkins, to more intricate boxes, folded paper has had its useful purposes. And perhaps even the cranes and other animals began as toys for children to play with.

“People in many cultures have practiced paper folding in some form, but it’s Japan that has become traditionally associated with folding paper as an art form,” says Doebler. “The best we can guess is that at least 1000 years ago, folding paper had both ritual functions as well as social functions, for example folding envelopes to send love letters among the court culture. But it’s probably more in the last 300 years in Japan, that it became a widely practiced activity.”

In Japan, the tradition of origami was passed from generation to generation, with mothers showing their children how to make the various objects. But in the 1950s, artists began to create written and illustrated instructions. This, according to Doebler, “popularized origami on the world stage,” and led other artists to begin working with the form.

Above the Fold features the works of nine different artists from seven different countries—Canada, China, France, Israel, Japan, the UK, and the USA. Each artist brings their own unique technique and expertise to the show, which promises great variety and broad perspective.

“Some people emphasize origami and its connection with nature,” says Doebler, “while others emphasize more the mathematical engineering inside of origami. Some are connecting origami to social and religious issues. For example, one of the artists is from Israel. She runs workshops with Israeli and Palestinian children, and is interested in origami as a vehicle for creating peace relations and helping cultures understand one another. So people can see a wide gamut.”

Artists have used a variety of techniques to produce their art, too, such as folding, crumpling, and twisting. Variety can also be seen in the types of paper used, and there are a variety of sizes.

“[Some] of these are very, very large installations,” says Doebler. “I think people are going to be wowed when they turn a corner in a room and see there’s a very large thing made out of paper in front of them! But others of them are very small and intimate. All of them kind of make you scratch your head and wonder, ‘How did the artist do this?’”

One of the more prominent artists is Robert J. Lang, a former NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory physicist. Lang works with modular origami and explores the “concept of infinity” in his piece. He will be on hand in person for two lectures in April, one on the specifics of modular origami, and one on the connections between math, science, and art.

A TED Talk Lang gave a couple of years ago provides an interesting discussion of origami as an art form, how algorithms have made it more accessible, and how scientists have used it in science, manufacturing, and medicine—to make space telescopes, better airbags, and arterial stents.

So, while there is still fascination to be found in a mobile made of peace cranes, the world of origami has expanded in amazing ways. Visitors to Above the Fold: New Expressions in Origami will be able to experience origami in its various forms, and should be blown away by the encounter.

“We want them to see there’s this whole movement with paper that maybe they aren’t familiar with,” says Doebler. “We’re just excited to bring this to Dayton and expose them to something new.

“People may see an artwork that involves photographs folded and that are inside plexiglass, or another artist uses paper, but also uses twisted clips. Some people may be very traditional origami purists and think you can only use one sheet of paper, and you can only fold it, but again that’s part of what this exhibition is trying to show—origami can actually be broader than that, and these artists are exploring the potential of what you can do with paper, how you can express different ideas or feelings through paper.”

Above the Fold will be on view at the Dayton Art Institute, 456 Belmonte Park N., Dayton, from Feb, 17 through May 13. For more information, visit or call 937.223.4278.

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Freelance writer Terri Gordon writes across a range of topics, including nature, health, and homes and gardens. She holds a masters in English and occasionally teaches college composition and literature. Her blog, WordWorks ( is a "bulletin board" of some of her favorite things.

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