New Paper Views

"Fragile Moments" and "Screen Shots," two separate exhibits at ASU, tie disparate childhood memories together

If I am ever forced at samurai swordpoint to come up with solid truisms about art at the beginning of the second millennium, I would have to say there are but two I could bet on to save my life. The first is that the genuinely beautiful will never go out of fashion. The second is that real artwork, viewed in the flesh in a brick-and-mortar museum, will rarely, if ever, be eclipsed by art experienced through computerized virtual museums on the Internet.

In support of these self-evident truths, just take a look at two very different exhibitions in two disparate locations at Arizona State University Art Museum. From a purely technical standpoint, "Fragile Moments: Paper Sculpture by Jyung Mee Park" in ASU's Turk Gallery and "Screen Shots," a computer-based project conceived for ASU's "No Absolutes" exhibition and installed at the museum's Experimental Gallery at Matthews Center, are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

But a strange psychic umbilical cord tethers the two shows together. Both draw on childhood memories from antipodal worlds that somehow conjoin and act as a two-way bridge between cultural and historical legacies of East and West. And both amply illustrate my swordpoint-induced assertions.

Jyung Mee Park's Untitled includes four large but delicate lotus forms in paper.
Jyung Mee Park's Untitled includes four large but delicate lotus forms in paper.
John Haddock interprets the federal government's infamous entry to take young Elián Gonzalez from his Cuban relatives in Miami in Elián.
John Haddock interprets the federal government's infamous entry to take young Elián Gonzalez from his Cuban relatives in Miami in Elián.

Details

Continues through Sunday, November 5, in the Turk Gallery. Free. Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. 480-965-2787
Arizona State University Art Museum's Nelson Fine Arts Center, 10th and Mill, Tempe

For sheer beauty of form and execution, Park's folded paper sculptures will weather any storm born from the eye of fashion, past or present. Bedridden several years ago with a serious illness that prevented her from painting in her studio, Park began to fold rice paper, which the artist remembers playing with as a child in Korea.

From these pleated pieces of delicate yet durable translucent paper Park's bedside visitors often helped to create, she eventually began to construct temporary, three-dimensional sculptures, several engaging examples of which appear in "Fragile Moments." While built around a well-anchored structural base, all of the artist's sculptures eschew the use of adhesives to hold them together.

Park's sculptures draw on fundamental organic forms, using the ancient art of paper folding to which even unschooled Westerners can relate. Paper folding is thought to have begun in China -- the birthplace of papermaking and a place that has long valued the pursuit of the meditative -- in the first or second century A.D. From there, it was introduced to Japan in the sixth century. Initially limited to the upper-class because of the paper's exorbitant cost, paper folding was eventually used in Japan both ceremonially and recreationally, especially in rites connected to the indigenous Japanese religions of Shintoism and Buddhism.

According to origami history buffs Joseph Wu and Victoria Beatty, paper folding then spread to the West via the Moors, who brought the art to southern Spain in the eighth century. The Moors had been taught the practice by Muslim Arabs, whose religion even today proscribes the making of representational art and whose scholarly fascination with mathematics, especially geometry, made paper folding a natural talent for them. Paper folding ultimately became the unlikely passion of 19th-century Spanish philosopher and writer Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936), who, through his philosophic followers, revived and spread the art to South America in the 1930s.

But Park's large, ethereal sculptures bear no real kinship to the small, charming Japanese forms of origami we ordinarily associate with popular entertainment for children -- or even for anguished Spanish philosophers obsessed with the solitary nature of existence (though the artist did enlist a legion of local high school students to fold the mountain of rice paper pieces necessary to construct the two installations in "Fragile Moments"). Nor are her paper works merely vapidly pretty. Underneath their austerely repetitious surfaces, there are real, solid metaphorical underpinnings.

Nest, an eight-foot-wide swirling vortex of folded paper inspired by thatched roofs, swims in a pool of creamy light. Its nurturant title belies the sculpture's visual dynamism, which first threatens to suck the viewer into its ever-diminishing center, then to push him away as it twirls outward.

Shimmering from a distance, Park's Untitled is a small forest of four large lotus-shaped forms dramatically downlighted at one end of the gallery. The forms range in size from five and a half feet to eight feet in height. Each paper leaf in the construction is carefully folded and twisted at the tip. Sprouting miraculously from the wooden floor, the big, bold buds suggest the exotic flower sacred to so many Eastern cultures and religions (in ancient Egypt, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Islam, the lotus is a multilayered symbol for life, enlightenment, creation and spirituality). The forms also read as out-of-control artichokes and/or perhaps sentient pine cones.

In sharp contrast, John Haddock's series of laser-printed, computerized drawings -- originally created solely for posting on the Internet -- are the antithesis of a communal project created by simple hands-on, no-tech crafting. Haddock's distorted yet detached treatment of earthbound violence and death stands in strident counterpoint to the serene spirituality of Park's rice paper megaliths, which only imperceptibly remind us of life's impermanence.

An Arizona native in his 30s now based in Tempe, Haddock takes the stuff of red-blooded, all-American, media-driven cultural heritage and transforms it through the visual vocabulary of a video game. Drawing directly into his computer with a stylus, Haddock never touches a piece of paper or canvas. He uses well-known photographs (easily garnered by the artist from the Internet) of dramatic historical events by which he has been profoundly influenced over the years. Reconfiguring them from a fictional vantage point, the artist renders the events in a skewed, isometric perspective in which all dimensions are treated equally.

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