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unfolding and refolding

May 25, 2012

They say that art imitates life. For others there is no life without art.

That is how I started this post back in 2010. For the last few weeks the line between life and art has become almost impossible for me to see. I have been rehearsing a play that, as I write, opens tomorrow night.

It has consumed almost every ounce of creative energy that I have.

It leaves me simultaneously drained and invigorated.

As I read through the original piece I realised that these last few weeks have required me to live on the fold in a way that I have never had to do before. I have had to discover where my character’s folds are and how they might match up with my own.

For George some of them are easy to see. Some are very well hidden and he works very hard to try to erase the evidence of them – you have to treat him with respect and unfold him very carefully and gently to find them.

His life, and how I seek to portray it, is determined by the events that have folded his life. And the events that have folded mine.

But George, and the experience of trying to bring him to life, continues to fold me in entirely new and unexpected ways. We have a three-week season to run so I am going to live with George a little longer before I try to figure out where the creases are that he has left in me. For now, I am going to live on and between the folds and offer you the chance to do the same…

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The photo below is of a piece from Brisbane artist Linda Phillips. It is a canvas, part of series that explores one part of the space where painting and sculpture become indistinguishable from each other.  For me the work is at once both and neither and there is something ethereal about it. Linda says:

“Using the fold as my conceptual underpinning, I am exploring the site in-between interior and exterior which I see as permeable and fluid. During the process of folding I am also questioning what a painting is.”

A painted and folded canvas
“Even that morning she knew it was a mistake.”

It resonates with me for two reasons.

The first is because the apparently simplicity of the piece belies its complexity and the careful thought that went into creating the work. You would be correct if you said it is a piece of canvas that has been painted and then folded, crumpled or scrunched. But if you stop there you are missing out.

If you choose not to engage any further with the artist you lose the opportunity to take a peek inside her mind. (And because you are looking at a photo that I took of a work I like, the opportunity to take a peek inside my mind as well!)

Why does he like her work? Why did she use those colours? It would be a very different object in white, black or red. Why did she do that – paint both sides of the canvas? Why develop (what I assume to be) the back of the canvas with that inky blue and then only show it at the back and that one little corner on the bottom right? Why fold it the way she did? What does she mean by “she knew it was a mistake”? What was she thinking?

I don’t know. I am not sure it matters though. I like that it makes me look at the things around me a little differently.  It makes me wonder.

I do know that I made connections between Linda’s work and a documentary I saw a few months ago called “Between the folds”. It looked at the art and practice of paper-folding around the world. Traditional Japanese Origami, New York artists who construct dynamic, responsive pieces out of single pieces of paper and mathematicians who use paper-folding to stretch the boundaries of their work.

One of the artists in the documentary made the observation that once you have put a fold in a piece of paper you cannot remove it. You can try. You might be able to go a long way towards erasing it but it will always be there. The experience of a single fold has forever changed the way the paper looks and the way it will behave.

The more complicated Origami pieces rely on this. Early on the paper will be folded and then unfolded leaving only the crease. Other folds are placed in the paper and slowly the larger form will take shape. It may well be that the very last fold is the one that requires that earlier crease to allow the work to be completed.

I think life is like that.

Every experience we have leaves a crease in us. Like Linda’s work, our life is created by a process of folding. We live on and between the folds.

Sometimes we work very hard to try to erase the evidence. Other times we will proudly show the crease to anyone who will listen.

Sometimes the crease might be visible to all as a line on our face or a scar on our knee.  Other times the scar will be invisible and we dare not show it even to those who might ask to see it.

Because we are all works in progress we do not always understand why life has chosen to fold us in a particular way.  We can be doubled over by the pain and then left to heal ourselves the best we can.

It makes no sense.

Why does he like her? Why did she start hanging around with those people? It would be very different if they were white, black or red! Why did she do that – develop a relationship with both our business and our competitors and hide it from us so that it was only just visible? Why did he treat me that way? What did he mean when he said “it was a mistake to call you”?  What was she thinking?

I don’t know.

I am sure it matters though.

The day will come when life will need that crease to be right where it is. You will need to draw on the strength it developed in you, apply the lesson you learnt or show the compassion to others that was shown to you.  Life will try to fold you in a slightly different way that would not be possible if that crease was not there.

It may well be the fold that completes you.

If you are in Brisbane in the next three weeks (we run until June 9) and would like to come and spend some time with George and give him the chance to put a crease in your life you can book tickets for “Same Time Next Year” online at www.stg.org.au

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 25, 2012 8:27 am

    “Every experience we have leaves a crease in us. Like Linda’s work, our life is created by a process of folding. We live on and between the folds.” Paul, what a beautiful, tender and accepting exploration of the experiences that make up our separate realities and our shared humanity.

    Like you I’m also drawn by the metaphor of folds and folding, and their voiceless speaking. But also by the sheer beauty as in the artwork you show. I’m often stopped, spellbound by the folds I see in fabric, and the photographer Imogen Cunningham’s 1957 ‘Unmade Bed’ has long mesmerised me: http://www.flickr.com/photos/14397740@N05/1626824967/

    “Same Time Next Year”. What a poignant wonderful play that unfolds over so many years. I remember fondly the 1978 movie with Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn, and I can imagine how it draws you into deep personal reflection. Wish I lived close enough to be part of the audience one night …

  2. May 25, 2012 2:25 pm

    Thanks Susie. There has always been a strong visual element to your writings. I love the Unmade Bed photograph.

    The movie stays true to the script for the play and it has been an amazing experience to spend the 25 years of the play with the two characters. If you are in the area let me know – I will buy you a drink after the show!

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