Although probably rooted in China, origami as we know it developed in Japan, where it was named for the words for “fold” and “paper.” It yields objects that are sleek and fragile, exemplifying an aesthetic shaped by Shinto and Buddhism’s acceptance of transience. Once antithetical to Western art, this outlook has become increasingly congenial in an era of temporary, performance and conceptual art. One similarity is that folders often work from existing designs, much the way draftsman do wall drawings based on Sol LeWitt’s specifications.
“Stories in Paper,” at the Japan Information and Culture Center, doesn’t stress origami’s affinity to experimental art. But the show, one of five current ones demonstrating the potential of paper, does highlight innovative techniques. There are pieces made with thick, textured or metallic paper, and some that use the snapology or wet-fold methods. The former assembles interlocking pieces into complex geometric forms; the latter allows more realistic depictions of animals that traditional origami simplifies to near-abstract outlines.
The show features the work of Giang Dinh, a Vietnam-born Virginia architect who’s adept at wet-folding. His creations include two bison in thick paper that resembles fur and a large robed figure made of white paper, set off by a small red cardinal at the person’s feet. Dinh employs similar contrasts of color and scale in a rendering of a kneeling figure with her back to the viewer. This time the tiny bird is pink, and a crane — the archetypal origami creature, dry-folded in the familiar manner. It’s a witty homage to tradition from an artist who has mastered a style that, though knife-less, might be called cutting edge.
Stories in Paper On view through Dec. 15 at Japan Information & Culture Center, 1150 18th St. NW. 202-238-6900. us.emb-japan.go.jp/jicc.
Although origami purists use folds only, some paper artists cut — “kiri” in Japanese. The kirigami in Matthew Shlian’s “Chirality” is intricate and elegant. And as befits art shown at the National Academy of Sciences, it also has practical applications. Shlian trained in ceramics and print media, but has collaborated with scientists on prototypes of technology such as solar cells that track the sun.
“Chirality” refers to the quality of being similar but asymmetrical, like human hands, so that mirror images don’t superimpose exactly. In Shlian’s artwork, chirality produces patterns that seem to emanate from a disruption, yet are basically orderly. A series of progressively smaller craters surrounds a large central one in “Enneagan”; it suggests the lunar surface, as well as the Islamic tile designs the Michigan artist cites as inspiration.
Some of Shlian’s creations are raised or impressed slightly, while others are fully sculptural. “Cursive” consists of dozens of forms, reminiscent of rhino horns or scimitar blades, precisely rendered in black and tightly grouped together. The tines are paper, but they look as if they could pierce the viewer the way the artist slices his chosen material.
Matthew Shlian: Chirality On view through Jan. 16 at the National Academy of Sciences, 2101 Constitution Ave. NW. 202-334-2415. cpnas.org/exhibitions.
Handmade artist books take many forms, and some are displayed more easily than others in Studio Gallery’s “Divisions, Connections and Intersections: Fact and Fiction in Family Histories.” The 18-artist (and one poet) show includes items that are untouchable inside clear cases, with only two pages revealed, and others that unfurl on long, accordion-folded sheets. Emily Martin’s tunnel book, with different excavations on each side, is akin to a child’s pop-up book (one of Shlian’s models). Paper is the usual material, but there are also metal covers and — for Jennaway Pearson’s account of Evel Knievel — plywood pages.
Most of the work fits the show’s theme, albeit in varied ways. The cases that hold Ceci Cole-McInturff’s “Mother of Sons” contain both a book and sculpture of maternal breasts. The collected prints in Maria Veronica San Martin’s “Chile 1973-1990, 2013” may be partly autobiographical but include portraits of people who disappeared under totalitarian rule. Kerry McAleer Keeler’s not-quite-book is a box packed with artifacts that evoke World War II, and Erik Delfino evokes childhood memories with photos of surviving features of the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. Individual memories yield singular artworks, and producing books in editions of as few as five is a way of keeping things personal.
Divisions, Connections and Intersections: Fact and Fiction in Family Histories On view through Nov. 19 at Studio Gallery, 2108 R St. NW. 202-232-8734. studiogallerydc.com.
Paper is gradually taking two divergent forms in “Better Homes and Gardens,” Becky Borlan’s in-process show at Vivid Solutions Gallery. The artist is planting the ceiling and walls with hanging foliage, an expanding forest to surround a community of small houses. The latter are folded from squares of brightly colored paper on which visitors have written what they like about their own neighborhood. Once the houses are assembled, the sentiments are no longer legible. But perhaps their good vibes linger, twinkling like the lights behind the symbolic vegetation, which hint at dwellings in the distance.
The project is part of “Immersion,” a series of interactive shows at Vivid Solutions and nearby locations. (A few doors away at Honfleur Gallery, Philip McGaughy’s “Ghost Tech” uses video, driftwood and construction materials to conjure the Anacostia River.) Borlan’s work, like her material, is designed to be mutable. Gallerygoers can add houses, or rearrange them. Three days a week, the artist is at the venue, continuing to build a little world that will be complete only when the show ends. Just as it is outside the venue’s doors, redevelopment is ongoing and inevitable.
Better Homes and Gardens: Becky Borlan On view through Nov. 19 at Vivid Solutions Gallery, 1241 Good Hope Rd. SE. 202-365-8392. anacostiaartscenter.com/vivid .
All six artists in Morton Fine Art’s “Handmade: Made by Hand” are showing works on paper, yet not all of them give a sense of handicraft. The surface appears pristine in Avi Gupta’s muted photographs of home interiors, which focus on light and shadow, and in Natalie Cheung’s blue-on-white renderings of leaves, which intentionally resemble cyanotypes. The skin is harder worked in Rosemary Feit Covey’s large, mysterious pictures of bone piles, which are partly engraved and partly painted, and layered with glue and polymer.
Julia Mae Bancroft literally stitches together her “Mending Moments” collages, sewing wool, hemp and bamboo fibers into the photo-based compositions. Nigerian-born Victor Ekpuk draws and paints on paper, but his imagery employs symbols from an African writing system once incised into wood, metal and ceramics. Nate Lewis literally cuts and scrapes, transforming black-and-white photos of black men with a range of patterns and textures. These vivid, almost sculptural portraits suggest ritual scarification and the tufts of woven fabric. They also signify possible metamorphoses that are more than skin deep.
Handmade: Made by Hand On view through Nov. 17 at Morton Fine Art, 1781 Florida Ave. NW. 202-628-2787. mortonfineart.com.