The Fitful Flog

April 5, 2009



You have to compare. So you can get a little distance from things. Like Laika. She really must have seen things in perspective. It’s important to keep a certain distance.

[audio:PR.mp3|titles=Far jag kan inte få upp min kokosnöt|artists=Povel Ramel]

That’s what Ingemar says in one of my favorite movies, Mitt liv som hund.  It came to mind this past winter when the news reminded me that it was forty years ago, Christmas eve, that Apollo VIII cruised around the moon and sent back photos of our little blue earth. At the time, this seemed perfectly natural to me, that astronauts should be floating around in lunar orbit, reading Bible verses to those of us left crawling on the planet’s face. On the other hand, the clusterfuck in Vietnam also seemed perfectly natural to me — kids normalize things right out of the box and then spend the rest of their lives wondering why the box looks so funny.

It also reminded me of a Christmas eve I spent in København some years back, hanging with this obscure Danish sculptor, Berthel Thorwaldsen. It was crazy cold in Denmark that year, crazy cold and damp in ways that just don’t obtain in the New World and every time one complained about it, one was handed a glass of the medicinal extract of caraway. A dose of that would cause a sensation of warmth for thirty seconds, followed by a couple hours of temporal and spatial distortion and a very vivid delusion that the universe was constructed entirely of stale pumpernickel. Don’t know if one can say this really helps — not in the way, say, that throwing a turf on the fire might.

So, somewhere in the conversation, I said, “Your problem, Berthel, is that you’re Danish and obscure….”

My problem,” he responded with a snarl, “is that I’m surrounded by barbarians.”  It was just me there in the pub — double vision is another side-effect of the medicinal extract of caraway. I was, to be fair, dressed as a barbarian — just the way I dressed in those days.  I tried again.

“An artist should always challenge his medium….”

Berthel slammed his fist on the table and threw me a malevolent sidewise glance. “You presume to speak to me of medium, yankee Visigoth? Let me tell you about medium: clay is the birth; plaster the death; and marble the resurrection.”

“But I work in paper, ” I said, “a developable surface….”

“Clay, life; plaster, death; marble, immortality! That’s it!”

Then he fell asleep, face down in a plate of sauerkraut and I had a hell of a time getting us back to his studio. Pretty freakin’ cold in there, too. Was there a peat shortage that winter? Certainly, there was no shortage of caraway seeds.

It’s so very easy to lose one’s perspective. Berthel, bless him, he’s dead now and presumably has gotten some of his back, but mine comes and goes with the shocking irregularity of a PVTA commuter bus on a Thursday evening. Whenever Eric Gjerde and I talk, after an hour or so, one of us is always sure to say, “For God’s sake, it’s just a piece of paper!” And we will hold that gnostic flash in our consciousness for a New York minute and then immediately return to our wonted obsessions.

Origami is a damned strange way to create art and one must never forget that. Even the odder of the outsider artists will look at origami models and say, “Pshaw, blood, what’s that about?” Origami is outside the mainstream of the art world and beyond the fringes of the backwaters — that’s okay.

A lot of it is medium — however lovely the paper, it remains an aggressively, heroically ephemeral choice. Every piece you fold is, to some extent, condemned to the slow burn of Time as soon as you put the final shaping to it. You can use the best paper and coat it with resins and polymers and put it beneath a bell jar inside a columbarium in a cathedral close, but still, the clock has started. And that’s okay, too — origami is a viral art and depends as much on the transmission of the idea as it does on the medium. The paper will perish — how should it not? — but the idea can live on in a very real and interesting way, not unlike the barbarian concept of immortality through glory.

Which brings me to ellipses. What, you were thinking it was only my prose style that was elliptical? Folding ellipses is like folding circles, but from a slightly different perspective — they force you to focus on the foci and that can be a little disorienting. But give it a try. I like the silver ellipse, myself– it has a ratio of one to the square root of two, just like A4, and this makes finding the foci particularly easy.
Rolling Box
Here is a Rolling Box, which is made from a 2:1 ellipse. This is just a variation of the Box of Rox, which chungdha points out, is not an entirely new shape. (Indeed, shortly after he told me that, I saw an interesting lamp packaging thing, using a similar shape.) I like this one a lot — it’s pretty close to cylindrical, so it rolls nicely, and it also stands up in this slanty way. Here, try it out: a crease pattern.

4 Responses to “Perspective”

  1. 1
    Joel Cooper Says:

    I can understand Berthel’s perspective. I came from the same place (no, not Denmark, I mean metaphorically). Art is creation, object and act. An act for the artist and an object for the viewer. The act of creation passes, the object is all that is left.
    I began my sculptural career in bronze-casting – a time-honored method for freezing time. I worked directly with the wax which would later be vaporized to be replaced by metal. Not the recommended method since the original (usually a clay model) would be destroyed, but I liked working with wax better than clay. I didn’t do it like most sculptors; I liked to bend and fold sheets of wax, something you couldn’t do with clay. Unconsciously preparing myself for my current obsessions, I suppose.
    Transforming the wax maquette into metal was necessary to make it permanent, but it takes the object another step further from the spark of creation. That wax figure had my fingerprints, the marks of it’s birth. This is something you want to preserve but this is what goes up the flue in the burn out furnace. The bronze that takes it’s place is a changeling.
    A piece of origami is like a page out of a diary. Like fingerprints in wax.
    Western art has a compulsion towards preserving a moment. I guess it’s proper that origami originated in the East.

  2. 2
    oschene Says:

    This weekend, I saw a story in the paper: my old droogie, Berthel, had some of his work recreated in Lego. He’d be crazy over that, but hell, it’s better than what the freaking Mormons did.

    I must confess to a most inconsistent passion for the semi-permanence of bronze. I wear a piece of Roman military bronze around my neck, just because I love the idea of a long-forgotten hand, casting it — probably using the same method you describe here. Makes me wonder — if you dipped a Cooperian mask in paraffin wax, could you then make the cire go all perdu? (I remember discussing cire perdu with Mr. Petzel, Florence Temko’s husband — he was a silversmith. I knew of the method from Johnny Tremain, but had no clue how it actually worked.)

    Of course, it would be wrong, to strive for immortality in this way. That wouldn’t stop it being cool. Way cool.

  3. 3
    Joel Cooper Says:

    I think our friend Owesen did something along those lines some time back, perhaps making a maquette from a casting of origami rather than waxifying the piece itself.
    I was trained for cire perdu in those temps perdu many years ago. What you suggest might be possible if the mask didn’t fall apart when saturated with melted wax. But then the end result wouldn’t be paper anymore, would it. It just seems wrong.
    By the way, doesn’t that image of the Lego Jesus look a bit like he’s doing the Hokey Pokey. Not that he never did the Hokey Pokey, for all I know he invented it. He could even do it on water. That would be way cool.

  4. 4
    oschene Says:

    An interesting observe — several of the more irritable members of the Roman church feel that the Hokey Pokey was invented by Jesus and they aren’t overly happy about it. One wonders what these sensitive chaps would make of Dutch prog-rockers, Focus, playing their signature tune, Hocus Pocus. We do know that our Savior once attended a wedding where wine was served by the firkin (this was the pre-metric firkin, too). It only stands to reason that Jesus would have been participating in a goofy group dance. Was it the hora? The electric slide? Rabbits are not kosher, so we may safely assume it was not the bunny hop.

    When does something cease to be itself and become something other? I am thinking about wood and bogwood and lignite and petrified wood. At what point does the stone forget its wood nature? When would bronzed paper forget its paper nature?

    Oprah? What the hell? Is this what you left me for – a twitchy Dutchman? Oh, the ignominy….

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