BROCKTON - Origami artist Nishimura Yuko is young - she was born in 1978 - but already she has creased so many folds of paper with her fingers that she has worn away her fingerprints, according to staff at the Fuller Craft Museum.
"Folded Light, Folded Shadow: Paper Relief by Nishimura Yuko" is the artist's first solo show in the United States, and one of two remarkable paper-based exhibits at the museum. The two couldn't be more different. Nishimura, who is based in Japan, takes a single sheet of paper and presses creases into it, creating rippling surfaces that play with light and have a meditative elegance. Wendy Wahl, who hails from Providence, cuts up encyclopedia pages, which she attaches to 10-foot-tall arcing armatures to make treelike sculptures. Wahl's exhibit, "Arboreal Anatomy," is an installation of conceptual works with an imposing presence, threaded with humor.
Nishimura's works are nothing like the paper swans we associate with origami. Following instinct rather than a drawn blueprint, she works her way across a page, folding intricate, undulating patterns across its surface. The result is a wild marriage of ancient Japanese artistry with Op Art, as light and shadow wink across surfaces that seem to spin, or to expand and contract before your eyes.
Look at "Sparkle 02," which has at its center a circle with creases radiating outward, until suddenly they start to slant sideways - as if standing dominoes have begun to topple, right on out to the edge of the page. The middle circle doesn't anchor the center so much as hover there, as the lines around it make the design appear to shift from side to side.
There's a Zen quality to Nishimura's art, with patterns as regular as breathing, but enhanced by irregularities - like a thought rippling across a quieted mind. "Stream," a multipaneled piece, runs softly with wavy lines, like currents in water. And as in water, the waves are not uniform; some rise higher, pulling the momentum of the pattern up with them. "Stream" has been cleverly installed beneath lights that also rise and fall, drawing the viewer's attention across the length of the work, catalyzing shadow play and a moiré shimmer effect.
The artist has worked at an even larger scale than this; in 2000, she made a portable tea hut from folded paper; there's a photo here of a tea ceremony taking place beneath its arcing shelter. As striking as these wall hangings are, at this point in Nishimura's career, they're just the seeds of more ambitious art to come.
Trees of knowledge
Nishimura's tea hut would have made a brilliant companion to Wahl's forest-like installation. "Arboreal Anatomy" fills one broad hallway of the museum with 15 big, branchless trees, sprouting from the floor and leaning into one wall or the other.
Wahl and Nishimura have two things in common: paper, and a technique of obsessive repetition. Like Nishimura, Wahl impresses with her sheer doggedness. The idea of accumulation - in this case, of shreds of paper fanning out from the tree trunks like carnation petals - ties gracefully in with her topic. Encyclopedias are, after all, dense accumulations of facts and their contexts.
They're also increasingly passé, and Wahl's installation pays tribute to their passing. Today, we turn to Google if we need information. We check in with Wikipedia, which is perhaps not as reliable as the old Encyclopedia Britannica, but it's a heck of a lot more convenient. Browsing on a computer takes us on a different kind of search. Perhaps it's better at providing information, whereas encyclopedias have specialized in knowledge. These works are, as she points out in her artist's statement, trees of knowledge.
Browsing through the pages of Wahl's trees, we find an entry on war correspondent Ernie Pyle fluttering beneath one on natural philosopher and playwright Giambattista della Porta. There's a chart - it has been too cut up to tell what it's about - that features entries such as "one perfect cleavage" and "Though reported, existence in native form is doubtful." These stray items and odd alphabetical juxtapositions make their own kind of poetry.
Books come from trees, and in Wahl's world, they cycle back to trees when they're no longer needed. Like the paper that this information is printed on, there's something cyclical, or changeable, about knowledge and the way we use it.
Like an encyclopedia, "Arboreal Anatomy" is thick with ideas. Yet these sculptures charm, as well. When I was there, kids walked through exclaiming, "Oh, this is so cool." The delicacy of the pages gives the behemoth structures an ephemeral delicacy. And to me, they seemed as much like elephant trunks as tree trunks, graceful and a bit daunting. Standing in the midst of them, I could have been standing in a grove of trees, or as easily surrounded by elephants, gently tickling me with their trunks as I passed.