Cultural Origami: Pleats and Folds From All Over the Globe

These aren’t your grandmother’s paper flowers.

The word stems from ori (folding) and kami (paper), which rather sounds like gami, hence we have the traditional Japanese art form of Origami. Its origins date back to the 17th century, but it’s since been popularized and westernized, in large part by Akira Yoshizawa, considered to be the grandmaster of the art.

Yoshizawa once explained that he wished “to fold the laws of nature, the dignity of life, and the expression of affection into my work.” His canvas, of course, was paper, poor pulpy paper, which gets such a bad wrap among the eco-conscious these days. No matter how much we recycle it, as newfangled it may be, our reliance on it is still responsible for untold deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and landfill waste.

To fold “the dignity of life” and “the laws of nature” into a product that comes from industrially harvested wood seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Ironic, even. But from Brooklyn to Berlin and beyond, the art of paper folding continues to surge in popularity – among young and innovative designers especially – challenging the way we consider the medium.

Brooklyn-based Brazilian artist Vik Muniz used the traditional origami crane to create a mosaic. More than two million were folded out of math homework, hall passes, love letters, candy wrappers and restaurant menus.

In Berlin, set designer Sarah Illenberger did the holiday windows for Hermes at the famous Kadewe department store. The result is whimsical and fantastical.

Craig Sonnenfeld remains rather mysterious. What we do know: he lives in Phoenix and creates amazing origami art out of dollar bills. The dude’s got money to fold.

Melbourne artist Matthew Gardiner coined the term Oribotics (a combination of origami and robotics) and created an entire art/science research field around it at the Ars Electronica Futurelab. Orbotics studies the interconnection of the aesthetic, biomechanic, and morphologic properties of robots and paper.

Also notable, his full scale Origami House constructed in 2008 from 1 square km of paper.

Swedish designer Mia Cullin creates textiles out of hand folded construction and geometric assemblies.

In Naples, Italian paper artist Andrea Russo folds modern origamic objects and cylinders, though his Van Gogh portrait is especially remarkable.

Holland based designer Yuya Ushida breaks the trend by using chopsticks to create a movable chair/couch, but relies on the principles and mathematics of origami.

In Paris, brothers and collaborators Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec created Clouds, an interlocking tile concept for the home. Though not strictly origami, Clouds is an installation (meant to be hung from a wall or ceiling) that takes its cue from origami masters: texture, form, and the tactile expression of affection.

Makes us want to reach out and crinkle something. At the very least, neatly fold.

Image:; Design Taxi; Sara Illenberger; Deviant Art; Mathew Gardiner; Pleat Farm; Kvadrat

K. Emily Bond

K. Emily Bond is the Shelter Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in southern Spain, reporting on trends in art, design, sustainable living and lifestyle.