Q&A: Vanessa Gould, director and producer of "Between the Folds"

December 21st, 2009

“Between the Folds” premieres Sunday, December 27th at 10pm on THIRTEEN

vanessagouldThink origami is just paper planes and cranes? A determined group of theoretical scientists and fine artists have abandoned careers and graduate degrees to forge new lives as modern-day paper folders. Together they reinterpret the world in paper, creating a wild mix of sensibilities towards art, science, creativity and meaning. Inside THIRTEEN spoke with filmmaker Vanessa Gould about her fascination with this unique art form and her film “Between the Folds.”

Q. What got you interested in documenting the world of paper folding?

Well, for many years I’ve been keenly interested in ideas and forms that have roots in both art and science, the creative and the technical – music and architecture, for example. When I learned about mathematicians using paperfolding in their research, I was intrigued and loved that it had such a visually compelling quality. Soon I learned that not only mathematicians, but also artists and scientists, were finding new and substantive exploration in paperfolding – all with incredible outcomes.

Given the breadth of voices and the elemental nature of the medium – a simple paper square – I thought, “Wow, imagine the possibilities! What an amazing starting point for an artform!”

Q. Do you think origami and paper folding gets enough respect as an art form on par with other arts like painting and sculpture?

BETWEENFOLDS_photo_select_01-1One of the things that I love about paperfolding is how special the process of arriving at a finished piece is. There’s this pure transformation that occurs when turning 2D into 3D – all while working within a set of great limitations (no cutting, no tape, no glue). It becomes an intellectual and creative challenge, where “the making” is as significant as “the product”. And, so while, admittedly, origami has not reached the elevated status of other fine arts, it’s still a young and evolving artform. I think once the broader population has the experience of witnessing firsthand the transformation that occurs behind every folded work – and acknowledges that transformation as central to the piece’s artistic merit and beauty – that then artform will be better understood. And we tried to reveal that as best we couldin the film.

Q. Is there a particular piece of origami that you saw during filming that moved you?

Impressionistic squirrel from handmade paper by U.S. artist Michael LaFosse.

Impressionistic squirrel from handmade paper by U.S. artist Michael LaFosse.

Well, everything that made it into the final cut moved me in one way or another. But what remains most moving to me, without a doubt, is the totality of the artform, and the scope of ideas and metaphors which it holds – transformation, untold potential, intellectual accessibility. Context is so critical in making art intellectually or emotionally moving, and when you consider the infinitely broad context of the paperfolding medium – spanning the spectrum from folk art to high art to theoretical science – that’s ultimately more moving to me than any single piece of work. And, I loved working on a documentary project where the challenge was to visually communicate the emotional content of ideas.


Q. How old is the art of paper folding, in comparison to other forms of art?

Paper has been around for centuries, and is one of the most abundant materials on earth. And so, paperfolding has happened in all kinds of forms for a long time. However, I believe the medium is earlier in its evolution than more mature forms of art like painting, sculpture or printmaking. I think paperfolding has yet to reach its evolutionary or conceptual peak, and has a very rich future ahead of it. And the fact that it has abundant practical applications makes it that much more amazing.

Q. Origami seems to involve a lot of planning and mathematics – is there room for improvisation in creating some of these intricate designs?

I think there’s plenty of room for improvisation in everything. There’s always room for thinking differently and getting creative. The scientists and mathematicians in the film are no less creative – by any measure – than the artists. That’s one of the wonderful things I witnessed while making the film and watching its subjects at work – science and math are driven by creativity. And so, any good models in paper, no matter how intricate, are also a product of creative and improvisational thinking.

Q. Can origami lend itself to practical uses beyond cute animal figures?

Hopefully the film itself is the best answer to that question!