When most people lookat a piece of paper, they see an unremarkable sheet of flat white material. When Polly Verity looks at piece of paper, she sees potential. Verity specializes in transforming single sheets of paper into surprising three-dimensional tessellations, a tradition of paper-folding called curved-crease origami sculpture with origins in Germany’s seminal Bauhaus school of art and design.
It was at the Bauhaus in the 1920s that famedartist and designer Josef Albers taught a preliminary course in “paper study.”The course was designed to help students approach the humble material with its inherent limitations—its stiffness, its thinness—in mind, and to allow these limitations toinform their creativity. “I want you to respect the material and use it in a way that makes sense preserve its inherent characteristics,” the Bauhaus-trained painterHannes Beckmann recalls Albers telling the class. “If you can do without tools like knives and scissors, and without glue, [all] the better.
Veritydraws inspiration from these constraints. Youre asking the paper to do something thats almost impossible, she says. Paper cant stretch or deform, but with a bit of cleverness you can bend it to your will.Shecrafts each of her sculptures from a single sheetof paper.There’s no cutting involved, and no glue—though she does use a blunted knife, which she uses to score the sheet and fold it intoa rough pattern. She then uses a computer program to align her creases with a grid and a computerized cutter to score a new sheet with more precise marks.
This freshlyscored sheet is her folding blueprint. She typically begins at the corner of a sheet and works inward (the ones that involve a lot of pleats are the most paper hungry, she says), folding the paper into itself with hard-earned precision and dexterity.You have to pay attention whats happening to all the other area in the sheet, she says. It helps to use the right paper, she adds. “Elephant Hide” is a preferred paper because it doesnt delaminate when scored. Watercolor paper, too, is handy since it can be folded wet, which is helpful for curved folds. Thin polypropylene sheet is also robust when scored and folded, she says.
Verity’s sculptures tend to look mathematical, and indeed,scientists and engineers use similar origami methods to inform the design of everything from edible colonoscopy robots to papercraft drones. Though she’s fascinated by the applications, Verity admits that shedoesn’t havea particularly systematic approach.Some of my folding friends are mathematicians—they actually know the rules, she says. “I come at it from a much more trial and error, approximated point of view,” she says. And that, onemight argue, is what makes it art.