Can you imagine a world without paper? In my small home office, I am surrounded by jotted notes, framed certificates, calendars, business cards, posters, stamps, greeting cards, and books … all indications of how closely paper is interwoven into the fabric of daily life. The Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg’s touring exhibit, Above the Fold: New Expressions in Origami takes the familiar medium of paper and transforms it in ways that help the viewer see a realm of new possibilities. “This is one of the MFA’s most ambitious installations, and our guests will be able to experience origami as never before,” says the museum’s executive director, Kristen A. Shepherd.
The art of paper folding reaches a new level of complexity in this exhibit comprised of twenty origami masterpieces by ten artists of diverse backgrounds and nationalities. Within the galleries, large framed works embody a sense of order and precision, then subtly change with light and shadow. Flying creatures, made from crumpled brown wrapping papers, drift from the ceiling. Glass-blown pieces encapsulate their paper creations. The largest piece in the collection stands at 8 ½ feet tall and is 20 feet long. Its installation alone required the help of ten staff members and took one entire day to complete.
Participants in History
A thousand years ago, the art form of origami, literally “folding paper,” was born out of Shinto, the traditional religion of Japan. First appearing in the courts of the ruling class, the practice eventually emerged as a form of folk art. Cranes, considered sacred birds in Japan, were the central figures in the legendary belief that if a person folded 1,000 paper cranes, his/her wish would be granted. In 1797, the first book of paper folding instructions, How to Fold 1000 Cranes, was published in Japan. By the early 1800s, children in Japanese kindergartens were learning how to fold cranes and other simple shapes.
Paper folding soon became an integral part of Japanese life. So did the legend of the 1,000 paper cranes. When the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1943, many of the surviving children were unknowingly exposed to radiation. Sadako Sasaki was one of these children. One of the fastest runners in her elementary school, she had dreams of making the junior high running team. However, in 1954, before she was able to realize this goal, she became ill. At first, she tried to shake it off, but the sickness only grew worse. Doctors discovered that she had leukemia, a side effect of radiation
exposure. Sadako, remembering the legend, began to fold paper cranes. The 644th crane was the last crane she would ever fold. In 1955, at the age of twelve, she died in her bed at home.
Sadako’s classmates joined together to fold an additional 356 cranes so that 1,000 cranes could be buried with her.
Many people began to raise money for a memorial to Sadako and the other children who had died as a result of the bombing. In 1958, a statue of Sadako holding a paper crane was erected in the Hiroshima Peace Park. On the base of the statue is engraved: “This is our cry, this is our prayer; peace in the world.”
Visitors to Beyond the Fold were invited to participate in history by folding a crane at the gallery’s interactive space, thus joining with others around the world who continue to send paper cranes to the memorial as a symbol of peace. Through this hands-on activity, the MFA hopes to collect 1,000 cranes to send to the Children’s Peace Monument in Hiroshima.
The exhibit runs through Sunday, September 29, so there are just a few more days to catch it. For more information go to www.mfastpete.org.