The great paper caper

Origami has long been appreciated as an art form, but now folding fans are creating boats and even spacecraft, says Genevieve Roberts

Paper, a silent essential that can bear messages ranging from the mundane to the exciting, has stepped into the limelight: this week the 2,000 year-old material flew in from outer space.

A paper aeroplane was launched into space by amateur enthusiasts Steve Daniels, John Oates and Lester Haines. A helium balloon carried the glider – made of paper straws and fitted with a camera – 17 miles into space before exploding, as planned. The airplane glided back to Earth, taking stunning pictures on its 90-minute descent.

Meanwhile artist Frank Bölter drifted down the Thames in an origami boat made entirely of paper. He had asked members of the public to help him fold his giant sheet of paper into a hat-like boat, named To The World's End, before floating off towards central London, as part of the Drift10 biennial art exhibition.

David Woodroffe, author of The Complete Paper Aviator, has been making planes since childhood. He says: "Paper is a strong substance, especially if it is designed in the right way – as the Japanese have always known. It's versatile, and also cheap. I hope we're going to see a resurgence in paper as an art form, now that it's being used less for mundane bills."

Paul Sloman, who has edited a book on paper as artwork, Paper: Tear Fold Rip Crease Cut, believes we are on the cusp of a creative paper renaissance: "I have always thought that such a precious medium is wasted on bank statements and train tickets." Paper, he explains, "began as a highly precious material, and has only really existed as a mass-produced carrier of disposable information during our rather wasteful 20th century. There's now a renewed appreciation of the qualities of paper."

No longer the medium of choice for council-tax bills, paper is increasingly seen as a material of many more imaginative uses – whether for recycled home insulation, furniture, transport or art installations. It's a material that fashion designers often return to.

In February, designer Gary Harvey opened New York Green Fashion Week with a couture dress made from 30 copies of The Financial Times. Designer Michael Cepress uses copies of the Yellow Pages to fashion men's collars.

And Bjork (who is no stranger to pushing the fashion envelope) posed in a paper jacket designed by Hussein Chalayan for the cover of her 1995 album, Post.

While designers now use paper to promote recyclability, paper dresses originated as disposable wear in 1966, with a promotion from the Scott Paper Company of America, which made of toilet paper and paper tissues. Scott offered a "Paper Caper" dress for a coupon and $1.25 – but soon ran out of the 500,000 dresses on offer.

Other brands followed its example, and these paper frocks are now collectors' items: two years ago, Christie's sold a "Souper dress", a Campbell's Soup design inspired by Andy Warhol's work for $3,000.

Origami, the Japanese art, isn't limited to swans. Los Angeles-based illustrator Jeff Nishinaka has been carving and pinching paper to make paper sculptures of up to 20ft for the last 28 years. His work is displayed in department stores including Bloomingdale's and Galeries Lafayette in Paris.

Nick Robinson, author of The Encyclopedia of Origami, believes that while some uses for paper are becoming obsolete, the material will flutter on into the future as an artistic medium. "A world without paper is unimaginable," he says.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices