Perception is the force for the world’s infinite unfolding (Erin Manning, Relationscapes 2008,  81)

The word perception has travelled a long linguistic journey from its earliest English language roots to today’s phenomenological and somatic meanings. To perceive finds its etymological origins in the Latin percipere, to ‘obtain, gather, seize entirely, take possession of,’ and figuratively, ‘to grasp with the mind, learn, comprehend, apprehend,’ or literally, ‘to take entirely.’ By the 19th century, the English perceive, took on a secondary meaning of an ‘intuitive or direct recognition of some innate quality.’


Now in the 21st century, thanks to contemporary philosophy and Somatic practices, the meaning of perception has taken on a more embodied and experiential meaning. Canadian cultural theorist and political philosopher Erin Manning has much to say about the meaning of perception in Relationscapes (2008), a ground-breaking book in which she challenges our ideas of perception and movement.


Manning’s writings in general resonate with my own experience of human origami.  Perception, she writes, ‘… is not the [passive] taking in of an object or a scene. It is the folding-with that captures the event in the making’ (p 77). Reality becomes an infolding of experience and an unfolding of an event. What constitutes an ‘event’ is not a ‘thing’ or ‘object,’ but rather folds and foldings, ‘elastic nodes in the process of becoming’ (p 78). Perception is in the folds, not of the folds (80, italics mine).


Phew! What does this say about our ability to perceive anew? Freshly? To discover – as artist or scientist – a new way of looking at the routine, habitual and pedestrian?


Here are three recent stunning events of origami folding that stretch our perceptions beyond the ordinary to the extra-ordinary.


The Media Lab’s Tangible Media Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has created a new type of computer software that – when embedded into special ‘fabric’ (specialized paper) – creates various 3-D origami shapes when inflated. What is a flat piece of paper, folds magically into swans, helixes, or other 3D figures with minimal human interaction.


Watching the fabric inflate and fold in the website videos, I began to embody the qualities conveyed – without touch – without manipulation or gesture. Here is the visual-made-tactile, the blending of vision and touch, an act of beauty.  Of course, these scientist-engineers are exploring cutting edge applications, such as the folding into new clothes, toys, robotics and packaging. But the very creation of this intelligent fabric itself is a thing of beauty, creativity, transcending the pedestrian, nature, the limits of our current existence – a vision of what can be, a new evolution. The experience – an extra-ordinary perception of becoming and the sensation of emergence – and of what, might not be known, so that you are left with the improvisational moment, the capacity for anything to happen. Then, there is the emergence of qualities –  of texture, movement, new spatial relations, a coming together of parts heretofore unimagined, the capacity for morphing into something new. How freeing to feel the potential of folding within the body but liberated from the manual effort to ‘make’ or to ‘do’ or to ‘create’ by hand.


Another project that stretches our concept of space, form and movement takes its inspiration from Tony Smith (1912-1980), American architect, painter and sculptor.  Smith revolutionized public art through his massive change of scale in his abstract sculptures.  Today, architectural students at the Southern California institute of Architecture, SCI-Arc, are drawing inspiration from Smith’s 1967 sculpture SMOKE to create new architectural origami.  The 2-D to 3-D renderings are proposals for a Hyde Park Branch Library in Los Angeles. Posted here is student Luiza de Souza’s contribution. Check out the website for a other students’ contributions showing a wide range of academic and professional backgrounds.


Finally, we have an amazing piece of interactive human origami from dancer-performance artist Satchie Noro. Noro’s dance Origami was inspired by the Japanese art of paper folding. For 40 minutes, Noro dances on a massive 40 foot geometric container that opens and closes as a fluid performance space. She slides, leaps and dangles from the large metal frames and edges. The work transcends acrobatics or spectacle, challenging our perceptions of gravity and levity. The work has been described as ‘an industrial romance in which a symbol of globalization, a container, embraces the fragile scale of the human body.’


Art demands that our perceptions be dynamic. For Manning, perception is not only a force for the world’s infinite unfolding, but also an ‘elastic process of pulling in and out of experience’s continuum.’ (80)  These examples of folding and unfolding across scale, through new fabrics, technologies and environments is intense, asking us to think differently — to allow our thoughts to fold into infinite possibilities of experience.