Human Origami

Seeing the film Between the Folds got me thinking again of origami. In childhood, my paper-folding phase happened sometime between pot holders and macrame. Years later, I returned to the hobby as a way to keep little kids quiet during concerts and church. You don’t have to say anything: just start folding. Even a two year old will suck in her breath as the paper all the grown-ups are reading, turns into a boat or a flapping crane or maybe even a frog.

But lately, my mind has been more on human origami. Wrinkles of course. and also deeper folds of muscle and tissue the way, –deliberately and haphazardly– folding shapes the person in the mirror.

After all, we start out in a folded state, even develop all krinkled up in the womb. Birth releases us. Our arms and legs spring apart and at first we don’t like it. We are quieted only when someone closes us back along the original creases. It takes about a year for a baby to unfold, and she opens with joy and delight. By then new folds are being imposed. We are folded by family and friends, by enemies and accidents. Mostly though, we are folded by our own longings and fears. For some of us, a big part of growing up is learning how and when to fold. Our bodies and minds, maybe even our hearts, are folded by shape memories of our own particular human origami. What’s more, we don’t even know it.

A new technology illustrates: When cool, a piece of self-folding foil shows no evidence of the form it’s been programmed to take. However, as soon as things heat up, the material pops right into the remembered shape. The foil pre-folded as a boat resumes its boat-ness. The airplane becomes an airplane.

It is easy to think human origami works in the same way. That, especially by the end of life, we have become nothing more than the result of all the folds and creases laid down in earlier years. That we are locked in patterns we can’t escape.

I started painting Human Origami feeling just this way. I had caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and thought, why this particular posture? What makes my body automatically take this position instead of some other one? What are the folds that have determined this form and what energy makes it happen?

I hoped for understanding. What I got, in this Act of Creation, was Mystery.

It came in the form of a mirage. There on the breast of the seated woman I was so earnestly rendering, appeared the sweep of hair, and then the eyes of a young girl. I touched my brush to her chin and saw her slip right under the woman’s arm. I turned away and when I looked again somehow that arm belonged not to the woman but to the girl herself. She had insisted herself into the gesture. What could I do but love her? And, loving her, what could I do but find a way to paint her a body and some legs to stand on?

To give her rightful place in the vast, vast space Between the Folds.

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The Eye (Photographer) and the Mind’s Eye (Painter)