Thursday, September 28, 2017


"Ashurbanipal", by Saadya

one of the works in “Paper Heroes”,
an exhibition at the Old Jaffa Museum, Israel
October 5 – December 30, 2017

Curator:  Ilan Garibi

Strap your sword upon a hero's thigh...” (Psalms 45: 3)

This king is not my hero. But he is the hero of my hero.

My hero is a Jewish poet who lived in the 7th century BCE in exile in Babylon, then moved to Jerusalem: one of the early Zionists. The poetry he wrote in both locations was to shape Jewish religious experience down through the ages, and many of his verses, whole and in fragments, have made their way into central portions of the Hebrew prayerbook. In their own day too they influenced contemporary Hebrew literary productions such as the Book of Jonah. Yes: a hero of mine, all around.

His hero — for so he describes him in a poem written for him in 663 BCE, in Nineveh — was King Ashurbanipal: the last great ruler of the Assyrian Empire, and by his own account the first truly literate one, who could read scripts in Sumerian and the older forms of Akkadian.  Ashurbanipal's military conquests created an empire of greater geographical extent than any that had existed to date, and he also assembled what was perhaps the world's first great royal library. To that end he employed an army of scribes to collect and copy out ancient texts from temples of all the peoples that fell to his rule (the Epic of Gilgamesh, for instance, was a favorite). One of those scribes, it now seems, was a young Jewish poet — my hero.

Ashurbanipal's prowess and virility and might are beyond doubt and he was more than a capable scholar-soldier. Yet this man, like other great emperors before and since, like Cyrus and Alexander and Caesar and Napoleon, leaves me entirely cold.

I've depicted him in as stiff and as stylized a way as I could, in high relief, blending an origami aesthetic with a Mesopotamian one so as to echo in paper some of what was done in stone. And stylized those representations certainly were. Just as from the epithets and self-descriptions alone it can be hard to tell one Assyrian king from another who might have lived centuries before, so with some of the sculpted reliefs, it's as if all these rulers were born with the same rounded eyes & brows, sported the same hairdos and had the same blocky beards: every one of them patterned, evidently, to a template they thought divine.

S. Sternberg
August 2017

postscript (September)

I had the museum to myself for a few minutes during the day for delivering the artworks, and slipped into the Antiquities section to see how my “Ashby” stacked up against some of the old things there. The objects in the cabinets are from an earlier period (13th century BCE) when the empire ruling here was Egypt rather than Assyria, and “Israel” was the name of just one people among several then flourishing in Canaan. Still I could not resist the juxtaposition.

Monday, July 10, 2017

"Press-Origami", by Masha Revva

Origami Tessellations + Press-Prints on Paper
June 20 -- July 4th, 2017

Jerusalem Artisans Gallery 
(Beit Ot Hamotzar Hayerushalmi)
12 Hebron Street, Jerusalem, Israel

This is a fine, understated exhibit by a leading Israeli origami artist, strangely moving given that the works in it are entirely non-figurative. It brings together tessellations—tile-like patterns from folded paper, each built out of minute folds of a single, uncut sheet—with old-fashioned press-prints in color, also on paper, made by passing the equivalents of these same folded objects under a heavy roller after inking. What's strange is that even though everything here is pattern and geometry, so much emotion—even specific ideas of nostalgia, hope, determination—manages to be conveyed.

This is also a welcome departure from standard origami exhibitions where one either displays arty-looking paperfolds or efforts to make origami “practical” (fold-up solar collectors for satellites; robotic wheels that expand, flat materials engineered to behave in surprising ways). All as a way of  “justifying” origami in the big bad world, making it seem more of an adult activity. Of course that's a doomed enterprise: audiences want origami to be childlike! But Masha's show is doubly doomed. For she steps out of the safety of the cloistered origami world with its endless animals and patterns and polyhedra, puts up something that's not practical in the least and that even verges on the incomprehensible, and-- while showing origami that is doubtless superbly crafted-- does so only in relation to another (perhaps lost) art. Oh well, so we Embrace the Doom.

This exact combination, tessellated origami + press-prints----just what does it mean?

Of course it joins a field that says “future” (for origami seems fresh, 'rationalistic' and forward looking, in spite of its history --or the fact it seemed fresh and forward-looking 500 years ago too) with an art that is visibly traditional and if not quite passe today then at at least 'nostalgic', as the big old roller presses are largely retired from the world, are set out in the fields to rust.

But there's more to it than that.

"Spiritual" is arguably the worst word in the dictionary to be stuck with as an aesthetic category, but in the case of this exhibit, what choice do we have?

Press-printed works and block typography have (now that this medium is in retreat, we can look back and say) an inherent dimension of “spirituality” simply in that not all of what goes under the roller transfers its ink evenly. What comes through are often “ghostly” traces, so that a print becomes, besides what it displays, also a record of the event of the plate or the object's squeezing through: an imperfect record like a memory. The partial lines, the spotty patches with the white of the paper shining from behind give us a kind of past along with the vividly encountered present.

Origami has a different kind of spiritual potential. Its medium-- paper, tissue-like-- is ephemeral, as life is, but also resilient up to a point, again as life is. Unlike wood or metal or stone or plastic, paper “breathes”. Paper sequentially folded further conveys an idea of “mind” being impressed on matter: a design, a sequence of moves that yields just this shape, geometric or not. Actually the Mind that gets pressed-in is not just intelligence or cleverness: the folds are put there by touch, so there's an element of Character in them too, of the individual folder's personality. One senses the rigor needed in making thousands of folds so exactly; some regions of a tessellation also show a flexibility. Did I say Doom? Then this is determination in the face of doom.

And then, because with origami the material is both uncut and not joined-from-parts, any shape as given conveys the sense that it might be undone, part-way or all the way back to flat, and then redone, perhaps differently; with results subject only to the limits of geometry and imagination (which constraints however are very significant). The paper breathes: but the shape does also. In short: a given origami object carries with it a cloud of possibilities, is never quite final. It is present, but carries its futures right with it.

And now these two forms of “spirit”, past-looking and future-looking, have been brought together, indeed one made by means of the other.

“Tessellations”  literally means tile patterns and this branch of origami follows a tradition that has been explored in ceramic tile especially in Central Asia and the wider Middle East. In the Al-Hambra it reaches its apotheosis. Tiles and their glazes are subject to erosion: if on floors then by feet, if outdoors then by wind and rain. When they erode they have the effect mimicked in paper-prints -- of persisting while being timeworn, making venerable, a link to the ancestors. When Masha runs these paperfold tiles through the press and then adds her little riffs, she is returning to origami to its origins in the decorative arts as we know them in churches, synagogues, mosques and civic structures especially in this part of the world. It is a beautiful, sweet exercise in preserving tradition while advancing and questioning it.

These ideas---I would like to see them carried further. Today tiles are made using photo-etching and other newer technologies: why not take photos of these prints and output the PDFs onto actual tiles? (I know just the place for this: Ilana Bauman of Siman She'elah Gallery, where OrigamIsrael exhibited in 2015, does such printing on tiles or stone professionally). And from the other side, for the origami that is supposed to be living and breathing, that lightens the heart—in the next iteration of this show I would  would like to see, besides the pieces flat on the walls, a few bowl-like tessellations; some wavy, organic shapes sitting on stands without glass. The two ends of the snake will then be stretched out further, even as they are brought together.

Saadya Sternberg
July 2017

Tessellation artist Masha Revva

Photographer Sasha Nurenberg embedded in a reflection of an origami tessellation. All photos in this article are hers. The tessellations themselves folded by Ms. Revva are largely interpretations of designs by various creators (credited in the exhibit), here including Shuzo Fujimoto, Roman Diaz, Eric Gjerde and Ilan Garibi .

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Israeli Origami 2: The Designer vs. the Sculptor

           Ilan Garibi | Saadya Sternberg

Hankin Design Gallery    
109 Hankin Street,  Holon,  Israel    
March 29 - May 5 2017          

This show combines Ilan Garibi’s fabulous explorations of non-paper materials in his fashion and product design—all based on origami patterns he's invented—with my own efforts make original figure-sculpture from origami, mostly in paper but also in a few other types of material. Both of us think of ourselves as carrying origami into new precincts.

"Folding Squared: Israeli Origami", Beit Meirov Gallery, Holon, Israel, 2015

We’ve called the exhibition “Israeli Origami 2” in reference to a previous very successful show in a different municipal gallery in the city of Holon, in 2015. There we took a much broader look at the origami activity taking place in Israel today— an exciting range that includes not just the cute animals and pattern-art  (those were there too)  most people think of in connection with "origami" but also paperfolds in packaging, fashion, physics, commercial products, graphic arts, accessory-design, education... there was even a display for motorized paper-airplanes and an origami-themed music video.

Ilan Garibi

Saadya Sternberg
This time we’re being much more restrained. It’s just us two. But we're sharpening the focus on "extensions of origami", and this is, if I do say so myself, a very pretty small exhibit.

Ilan Garibi, tessellation from wood
Ilan’s tessellation made with a single, very thin sheet of actual wood. Interesting how different it is from paper.

Saadya Sternberg, "Molly" (2006)

My "Molly" (2006).  A rectangle of paper (with a wood texture) is glued to stiff aluminum foil and scored to make the fold-lines, then folded via a "sculptural origami" technique.

The texture, color, and curve-fold tessellation nicely match Ilan's piece.

Nowadays Ilan is also making tessellations out of bronze.  Below at right is a sheet that has been photochemically etched and edged. The acid eats away at the score lines; Ilan then folds the metal by hand along these lines to form the pendants.

Ilan Garibi, origami pendants

If you zoom in on the center of the crease pattern on the flat piece of bronze--there's a small square--you can isolate a "molecule", a repeating element that is the basis of the tessellation.

Below is a bowl "folded" from just such an isolated molecule: this time, from glass!

Glassware, Ilan Garibi with Dani Calderon for the Gal Gaon gallery.

Over the years I've wondered whether origami can be used to make "full sculpture". Sometimes this has meant going against an origami ethos, but it can also mean incorporating origami elements, in this case a tessellation for the hair, which, besides being pretty in itself, also allows the surface to be "collapsed" in two directions at once.

Saadya Sternberg, "Ernestine" (2006)

It so happens that the tessellation for the hair--here and with "Molly"-- is related to the one Ilan is using in his bronze pendant (in mine the curves meet at points rather than at little squares). Ilan has certainly done a cleaner job of it with his jewelry: he is a tessellation artist. On the other hand, when I did mine I don't think anyone else was doing curve-fold tessellations yet...

Ilan Garibi, Tessellation-based jewelry

More tessellation-based jewelry.

Exquisite--no? You can clearly see the potential of this.

All three pieces here  are made using an identical "rotated-cube" tessellation--one of about 150 patterns that Ilan has come up with (so far)--with the "molecule" repeated outward to varying extents. In fact it is the same tessellation shown here in paper:

Ilan Garibi, rotated-cube tessellation: in paper and jewelry

Ilan explains: "Two essential properties allow a molecule to repeat itself serially in all directions: the edges of the original sheet need to remain at the edges of the molecule; and it must remain symmetrical, so that all four of its extremities are identical.

If a molecule indeed meets these criteria the formation proceeds in three stages.

In the first stage the grid folds are made: these divide the sheet into equal-sized tiles, mainly in powers of 2: a 16-unit grid, a grid of 32, of 64, and rarely of 128 units.

The second stage includes the addition of pre-creases, a long and arduous process. The most simple molecule requires 4 pre-creases and the complex ones can require 16 and even 24 prec-reases. Given the fact that some tessellation patterns have 25, 36 and even 100 molecules, the number of pre-creases can reach into the thousands.

In the third stage, all the fold-marks are actuated. This is the “collapse” stage and it is where the tessellation is formed. This is the most technical and difficult stage."

Ilan Garibi, gold-plated bracelet, rotated-cube tessellation

Ilan also points out that as a method of jewelry-making, the technique from origami he is introducing here has an advantage: a sheet of metal can be polished in its flat state, then folded--in some cases after electroplating in gold or other metals. Such polishing can't be done as part of any other kind of metalwork: not casting, not soldering, not hammering. With manipulations of a 3D surface you just can't reach all the indentations and crevices.

So much for metal and glass.  Let's briefly get back to paper itself.

Paper has some unique properties for pattern art that can't be easily captured in other material.  In particular: its matte surface; its stiffness with flexibility, its easy foldability and its partial translucency.

Here is a"Peacock Fan", from nicely translucent chromatography paper (donated by the botanist Allan Witztum):

Saadya Sternberg, Peacock fan (2008).  From a sheet of chromatography paper

This is the only non-figurative work of mine made from paper that I've kept in this show (only to confuse people who would think it was Ilan’s...)

At the time (2008) I was asking about differences--and possible interactions--between straight folds and curved ones; that investigation led to all sorts of interesting discoveries. But I was also asking the following aesthetic question. The fan is one of the most ancient of all the shapes made by folding paper. It is certainly hundreds and possibly thousands of years old. Now,  this ancient, beautiful, simple sunburst shape: what addition can be made to it, via folding, that complexifies it, but does not at the same time destroy its purity and hopefulness?  And that somehow has not been thought of before...

More on the Peacock Fan here.

Ilan of course uses paper not to just make pretty patterns or answer philosophical questions, but complete products that end up being sold at high-end design venues. His preferred paper is called "Elephant Hide", and its translucency--along with, strangely enough, its fire-resistance--make it ideal for use in lamps.

Ilan Garibi with Ofir Zucker for Aqua Creations. Photo: Albi Serfati 

Ilan Garibi with Ofir Zucker for Aqua Creations

Moving on. If paper is the medium, one can still work "against its grain" so to speak, reducing rather than augmenting the origami and papery aspects.

Here are some free-form pieces with art-history references, meant to elicit the reaction: that's from folded paper?  (In fact they are from a paper + aluminum foil combo, but you get the point.) 

Saadya Sternberg, "The Spinster" (2004)
homage to Chana Orloff

Saadya Sternberg, Leonardo's Self-Portrait, Origami (2004)

If I'd had time I would have done another one of these for this show:

Saadya Sternberg, "Jar of Muses" (2007)
Permanent Collection, EMOZ Museum, Zaragoza, Spain

After making some of the above ‘freeform’ pieces from foil-backed paper in around 2004,  I was challenged by some in the origami community if I could make something “expressive” and “figurative” out of paper alone, without relying on metal foil's easy-to-shape properties.  Eventually I designed these bearded faces, wet-folded from ink-rubbed Canson watercolor paper.

Saadya Sternberg, 3 Bearded Faces (2011)

The bearded faces are “origami” not just in the sense that each starts from a flat rectangle and is folded into shape without cuts. Elements from origami's iconography are also being incorporated into the design. In particular: the zigzag for the eyebrows, the fan for the beard—these are not things a sculptor in another medium would know or care about.

To acquit myself of the challenge of representing a specific individual, I made one of these as a self-portrait.

Saadya as himself

Below the beards is "Hana" (2016).

I wanted to show off the idea of continuity in origami: a paper sheet gradually changing, by just a few folds, from its flat state into full, nose-protruding objecthood. (A strip of paper unlike a square naturally invites the thought of a time-sequence).

Saadya Sternberg, "Hana" (2016)

I've maximized the contrast by bringing the two ends, the "before" and the "after" right up against each other: this changes the meaning of the flat part,  which now can be read either as "base" or as "body" (actually both at once). I also wanted to bring out the essential property of a sheet,  it's two-sidedness, by painting one side black: the origami metamorphosis causes the black to be read as "hair". Even the curl of the transition acquires a meaning: "the curve of the back of the head." All of the above simultaneously. And with the face being compelling as sculpture by itself, before any of the above gimmicks.  Of all the works I've put in this exhibit I think this is the one I'm proudest of.

I'll come back to "Hana" later.

I mentioned origami's "iconography".  One element in the visual repertoire of paperfolding is the crease pattern, the mark of creases on a sheet when it is unfolded (or perhaps when it is being prepared for folding). CPs have aesthetic appeal in and of themselves, and Ilan has decided to incorporate them in some of his fashion designs.

Ilan Garibi, CP necklace. 4X4 Paper Cubes on 1x1 gold coated grid

In these necklaces the CP is represented in flat metal filigree, and the object it yields is at the center in 3D folded metal, paper or wood.

Ilan Garibi, CP necklaces

"Gravida" (1999)
 copper foil
(not in exhibit)
As said, the subject of this show is the extensions of origami into other fields of design or art, in both our works over the years. But I'm the first to admit that Ilan's explorations of non-paper foldable materials have been way more rigorous than mine.  That is: I’ve made some sculptures out of copper foil instead of paper; have explored possibilities of folding very stiff cardboard; and have experimented with bronze-casting my work.

These efforts have all been successful, or at least enriching; but somehow not appropriate for this show. What I have included here are the things from paper glued to thick aluminum foil (100 microns); one Horse wetfolded from corrugated cardboard; and a few studies in folded leather.

Faces from folded leather, by Saadya Sternberg with Alon Mered, OakLeather Studio, Israel

These were just "proof-of-concept" studies but they look very nice in the exhibition space.  I plan to deepen the exploration into leather.

A few words about this material.

Leather can be wet-shaped, as paper can. (Drop the sheet into a pail of water with some dishwashing soap, let it soak overnight.)  Indeed the technique which is only a recent adaptation for thick paper is actually ancient for leather.  The leather solidifies into its form when it dries, more so even than wet-folded paper does.

One clear difference between these materials is that leather can be stretched while paper cannot.  With leather, to make an area protrude out of the flat surface you typically bang it with a hammer from the other side into a shallow mold.  Here, though, I am not taking advantage of leather’s elasticity at all.  To make shapes that emerge cleanly from a flat surround--look for instance at the lips--I am relying entirely on origami techniques which force a local three-dimensionality.  I think this is an innovation as a method of leather-work.  There is only so much protrusion you can achieve by banging.

Besides faces and heads, I've included some "whole animals" too in this show--a small number out of many that I've designed over the years.

Saadya Sternberg, HorseHeads (2012)

Saadya Sternberg, Holy Cows (2015)

Indeed my background is in animal forms (I mean my origami background: I've also taught philosophy of biology and have thought about how features of specific animals have evolved). But for this show I wanted to make sure the animals work as sculptures in a traditional sense, and not rely on the "gee-wizardry" of origami for their appeal.

In practice that's meant reducing the number of hard fold-lines as far as possible and relying more on a few soft curves in the paper sheet.  The curves add an emotional dimension, I think. The downside of all this is that viewers often ask: This is origami??

Saadya Sternberg, Woodbirds (2016)

The Reclining Lion, perched above it all.

Saadya Sternberg, Reclining Lion (2017).  From a meter-long strip of Fabriano paper.

A figure can be quickly sketched on paper with a pencil; in space the same can be done with a length of wire: another 1-D medium.  I want to suggest that a rough equivalent can be achieved with a 2D continuum, such as a strip of paper. Of course the twists and turns of a paper strip will mean something a little different than a drawn contour-line does.

Saadya Sternberg, "Chinese Smile" (2016)

Around 2012 I had the conceit, that it should be possible to make all the heads of “normal” animals via a single folding formula with minor variations for each type of animal.  Just as the genes for these animals vary only slightly on top of a common pattern that guides their development.  It’s been fiendishly hard to get this to work, but it actually does: even for humans, which are a kind of animal (one whose looks we are specially attuned to).  So Hana (2016), the "Chinese Smile" (2016) and the Reclining Lion (2017) are all folded using a closely related folding concept.

The first implementations of this idea were in this trio of heads:

Saadya Sternberg, Three Animal Heads (2013)

Let me now back up for a bit.  This show was thrown together very quickly, when a co-exhibitor for a different exhibit with Ilan -- on fashion design -- backed out at the last minute. I'd always secretly believed I could pull off a "pop-up" exhibit, and that origami in fact is specially suited for just such immediate put-togethers. But the idea for this exhibit gestated for a lot longer than a mere few weeks. It was triggered back in 2015, when I saw how nicely our things went together in the larger group show of "OrigamIsrael"  at the Beit Meirov Gallery in Holon.

Yet the works that did the triggering are not in this exhibit! They were objects made from paper, not the metal jewelry. Specifically these things:

Ilan Garibi, framed paper tessellations (not in exhibit)

Ilan Garibi, nested polyhedra (not in exhibit)

Including those works in this show--as maybe we would have done, if we'd had more time to think --would have added more color from Ilan's side, and also some of the "lightness" that only paper and paperfolds can bring. The heavier materials, the bronze and the wood and the glass do not lighten the heart the way paper can, even if they do show off origami-intelligence, exquisite craftsmanship and attention to detail. And--I speak from experience--it is the light-heartedness that brings the big crowds to the shows.

More color in the overall balance would also have allowed inclusion of a few items of Ilan's that we pulled on grounds that they were "too anemic":

Concrete "Palmas" vases by Ilan Garibi and Ofir Zucker
for Gal Gaon Gallery (not in exhibit). Photo: Ofir Zucker

Ilan Garibi, Tavolini Trio, tessellated American walnut

What this means: we’re just going to have to do this show again someplace, in a larger space, and put in these works too.  Museum directors and owners of commercial design galleries--please take note.

Back now to what is present, rather than absent, today at the Hankin Gallery of Design.

Saadya Sternberg, "The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters" (2016). After Goya.

This installation comes fresh from the “Paper Creatures” exhibit at the Jaffa Museum (closed December 2016), a show Ilan curated.

 "Bela" from "The Sleep of Reason"

"Junior" from "The Sleep of Reason"

On the computer one has the right to move objects around differently than was done in the gallery space.

So: look how nicely the bat-like creatures from this series go with Ilan’s dark and brooding metal lamp.

Ilan Garibi, Grooved Metal Origami Lamp

Ilan notes that the fold-lines in the metal lamp are actually excised, since the material here is too thick to fold along lines that are merely scored.  Left uncut are the “nodes”  where more than two facets join: there the tiny bit of the metal of the original sheet is intact, and bent to support all the facets.

If we’re moving things around, let me put “Hana” next to a display that has some of Ilan's bracelets from tessellated metal and wood. And especially next to the flattish strip of wood that, in preparation for folding, has some geometric score-marks on it, making it look like some piece of ancient papyrus.

Ilan Garibi, bracelets from folded wood and metal

Saadya Sternberg, "Hana" (2016), from folded Fabriano paper

I should first say that I've had Egypt on my mind, even before seeing in Jerusalem the glorious exhibit at the Israel Museum, “Pharaoh in Canaan”. People react to "Hana" I think a little like they do to a sarcophagus, with the long flat body part and the polychrome head angled forward like a mummy's.  There is also a connection with Egypt in the very idea of a protruding shape that emerges from flatness and harmonizes with it, though obviously  I am exploring this ancient idea in completely modern origami terms that were not available to the Egyptians.

One day I'd like to see this work displayed like the objects are in the “Israeli Mummy" room in the Israel Museum, a dark space with spotlights on the displays; and especially the way the gorgeous "Ibis" is presented there. Again, Museum directors and exhibit installation experts--take note.

Egyptian Ibis, at the Israel Museum

But it's interesting to me that Ilan's works too, absolutely fresh and modern, have this element of antiquity or tradition built into them. Shiny and clean and technologically modern, without a hint of the patina of age, they also could appear, almost, in a display of archeological findings from anywhere in the Middle East. Perhaps it is the materials, the bronze and the wood and the leather; or maybe it's the workmanship, the clean patterning of the folds, the detailed finishing. In the Israel museum, in the historical halls on Jewish weddings in Yemen or Iraq one finds ornaments with just this sort of aesthetic.

I don't know where this is coming from. Ilan's mother, I seem to remember is from Morocco, his father from Kurdistan--maybe that's it. But I've also seen a similar  engagement of modernity with tradition in works of other artists from our OrigamIsrael group. Maybe this really is what an "Israeli origami" looks like.