Always Folding – How Origami Changed My Life | Ilan Garibi | TEDxPaloAltoSalon

Always Folding – How Origami Changed My Life | Ilan Garibi | TEDxPaloAltoSalon


Translator: Sanja Srbljinović Čuček
Reviewer: Tanya Cushman I named this model “Childhood.” Like most of my works,
it is made out of a single sheet of paper. Just folded, no cuts or glue. When I was a child,
I always wanted to be a fighter pilot. Yet 10 years ago,
after 25 years of military service, I retired from the intelligence forces
at the rank of lieutenant colonel. And this was about the time I decided
I’m going to be an origami artist. Now, origami is about the ability to change a square sheet of paper
into almost anything. It’s a rare form of art in which you add nothing
and you take nothing from the paper. You end with exactly
what you started with. Look at the example
of the works of Eric Joisel, for me, maybe the greatest
origami artist who ever lived. From one paper, he made the pangolin, and from the other, he made the tree
the pangolin stands on. Unfold this pangolin, and you will get
the same square sheet Eric started with. My first encounter
with origami was with this. At 11 years old, 1977,
a classmate went into class holding this, and at the moment he pulled the tail,
the wings flapped, and just like the butterfly effect, my life changed. And this was the exact moment
I was hooked on origami, and ever since, I’m always folding. Now, my mother was trying
every possible workshop there was, from macramé to stained glass,
even painting with ropes, and from her, I believe
I got my artistic side. My father, well, he was
the best handyman ever. He was capable of dismantling the oven, take out the heating component,
replace it with a new one, and when he put everything back together, the oven started to work again,
and there was no screw left outside. From him I got the sense that if I have a packing knife in one hand
and superglue in the other, I can do anything. Now, for many years,
I was a passive folder, following instruction from books. I did try my hand
with creating my original models, but I failed quite miserably, I must say. I once tried to make a hummingbird
and showed it to my wife, and she said: “Frankly, my dear husband, this is kind of an ugly head
of an elephant.” (Laughter) So I was afraid to fail again
and stopped trying. But still, this is partly a collection
of original models from my recent years. So how does a folder become a creator? My breakthrough was after a mistake. What you see here
is the “Star Puff Tessellation” by Ralph Conrad. And when I tried to refold it – because we origami people,
we remember with our fingers – I got this mutation. Now, while he has
six-point stars in the center, my variation had hexagonal
towers spread all over. So, annoyed, I called Gilla,
the lady who taught me the model, and I asked her, “What did I do wrong?” And she said, “You did nothing wrong.
You actually made a new tessellation.” That was a moment of revelation for me because I realized
I can easily make more mistakes. (Laughter) So my fear of trying to create was over. Now, at the age of 38,
I was promoted to a lieutenant colonel, and just like any other
officer at this rank, my vision was to become a full colonel. I was appointed as a unit commander
with about 300 soldiers and officers, and although my day was fully packed
with discussions, meetings, decision-making, drills and exercise, I realized that the best moment of my day was when I logged in
into my Flickr account and saw that a 13-year-old from Wisconsin gave me a star on one
of my latest models I just posted. “Well done, Ilan!” he wrote in the notes, and I felt so proud. (Laughter) Four years later,
I sat in front of my commander, and he told me, quite dryly, “Garibi, you will never be promoted.” So my stomach clenched,
but my face showed nothing of it. I realized it is time for me to retire. Now, for an officer in the army,
retirement can evoke fear. It’s a major blow to your ego: you lose your post, you lose your stature,
you lose half of your salary. Moreover, high-ranking officers get the impression
that anything they say will happen. Well, they are wrong. When you retire,
if you want anything to happen, you have to actually do it yourself. (Laughter) But for me, the retirement
was just like origami: you get a clean, fresh,
square sheet of paper, and you have endless opportunities. Now, please look at this slide. This image shows the other side
of the model you just saw before. And when I saw this other side,
I was much more excited than you are because, first, I designed
only the first side, so I got this side for free,
which is always nice: you make one, you get two. But more importantly, I felt so much joy out of the fact
that this is my creation – I did this – and from that joy, I decided
that I’m going to be an origami artist. Now as an officer, we were trained,
when we start a new course, to set a vision, far ahead, and just like the North Star, it’s just supposed to guide you
through your new journey. But you are not really
supposed to reach this vision. It’s only main function
is to keep you in the right direction. But I decided I’m going to set my vision
as far and high as possible. I decided that within 10 years, I’m going to be no less
than the invited guest of the annual Japanese origami convention. So how does a folder
become an origami artist? The first step is to create –
as many as you can – models, which I did. That was the easy part. Second step on my program was recognition. I was aiming to get the recognition
of the origami world. Now, origami is about sharing, so I started to share
diagrams of my designs. I started to attend conventions
and teach models through workshops. I published articles in online magazines. I did everything I could
to become famous in the origami world and get one step closer to my vision. But life had other plans for me. This is the pineapple tessellation with front light. Step three on my program was exhibitions. I started small in the library
in my hometown and then in the city nearby, but I knew I have to aim higher, and I have to reach the cultural center
of Israel, which is Tel Aviv. Luckily, my brother knew a guy –
this is how it works in Israel. (Laughter) So his name was Gal Gaon, and he just opened
a design gallery in Tel Aviv. And the day we met was the day
I appointed him as my mentor, which he still is until today. And he explained to me,
because I knew nothing about it, that the design gallery,
unlike an art gallery, is more into useful items, like a table, a ball, maybe a lamp. This is the same tessellation
you saw before, but this time with backlight. This is not a computer-generated image: it’s just paper. So although paper is totally unuseful
to become a table, it is very suitable to be a lampshade,
as you can see the effect of light. So he asked me if I can design
and make four lamps in two months’ time for the opening of the gallery. Although I never did it before, but I knew that I had
a packing knife at home and some superglue, so I said, “Yes, of course.” And while getting home, I remembered my father teaching me that the first tool you took to your hands
when you start to make something is a pencil. So I drew my program, and within two months, I was able to show
four lamps such as this. On the evening of the opening night, Albi Zerfati, the owner of Aqua Creations, which is a highly esteemed
lighting studio in Israel, came and was very impressed
by the beauty of the lampshades, and he was smart enough to ignore
the craftsmanship of everything beside it, and he asked me if I wanted to join hands
and design a lamp for him, to be presented five months later
in Milan Design Week. Now, I didn’t really know
what Milan Design Week means, but I said, “Yes, of course,” and five months later, I was standing by this lamp in what should be considered
as the pinnacle of the design world, in Milan, highly proud, but also quite confused. Because, you see,
when you stand in Tel Aviv, Milan is to the west,
but Japan is to the east. So will this lamp take me
any closer to my vision? What is my vision now? Just to close a circle – three years ago, a new Japanese
restaurant in Tokyo decided to decorate the place
with those lamps. But back to Milan, I decided it is time
to embrace a powerful concept, the concept of “and.” I’m going to be an origami
artist “and” a designer. Now, at a certain point,
there will be an unavoidable question. You will ask me, “Where is the money?” (Laughter) “Can you make a living out of origami?” Now, for the origami world,
paper is almost everything. But for the design world,
paper is not so useful. It’s too weak, it’s too common,
it’s too cheap. But since I’m a designer now, I realized
maybe I should redefine what folding is. Instead of trying to reinforce paper
to be strong enough to become a table, maybe I can fold materials
that are used to make tables from. So I started to research every possible material
that came in a sheet form. I started with wood because wood
is premature paper, after all. And I realized that if you used
thin enough layers of wood, with the help of laser engraving,
I can fold it just like paper. I also tried my hand with fabric,
leather, plastic, cement, even clay, even glass. But what about metal? When I was a kid, I was smaller,
thinner and weaker than most, but I knew, I just knew,
that I have superpowers that will be released
when I am in a dire need, like I’m under an upside-down bus, and I will suddenly have the power
to bend the rods, the metal rods, and free myself and all the others. Now, as you can see,
I never grew any formidable muscles, so I realized that
if I want to fold metal, I have to outsmart the metal. I have to use my wits. So instead of trying to become
stronger than the metal, all I need to do is to make sure
that the crease lines are weaker than me. So in a way, I’m folding
metal with my mind. This is a nice case of mind over matter,
if you think of about it. I started on a small scale with jewelries. I never did make any jewelries before, but you know me by now –
I like to stand for a challenge. Those jewelries that you see, each of them is hand folded
from a single sheet of brass, based on my paper designs. On a larger scale, I fold stainless steel that has a substantial thickness
of one millimeter with mirror finishing. And I fold it only slightly, so you get
so many reflections from the surfaces. My work is kind of invisible because when you look at it, you don’t see the work itself,
you see the reflections. In a way, it’s a kind of cheating because every time you look at my work, all you see is yourself
from so many angles. So you have to love that, of course. (Laughter) And since I am a guy
who likes to stand for a challenge, finally, after seven years,
my mentor asked me to make tables. Here are some tables, each made
from a single sheet of stainless steel, just folded, using my hands. (Applause) We are not finished. Thank you. Please take a look at the far end
of this two-Michelin-star restaurant. Ten years ago, I dreamt of becoming the invited guest
of the Japanese annual origami convention. Six years after,
I was invited as an artist to install a commissioned work
of metal origami at the bar of this restaurant. Now, as we get closer to the bar
to see its beauty, I realized that getting
too close to your vision means it doesn’t function
as your North Star anymore, and you have to push it away, farther away. Now, I’m the achiever type, and when I climb a mountain, I have to make sure it is higher
than the one I climbed yesterday, so it is time for me to find and reach
a higher peak to conquer. I call this model “Adulthood.” Like most of my works, it is made
out of a single sheet of paper, just folded, no cuts or glue. When I was a child,
I always wanted to be a fighter pilot. Today, I’m a teacher: I teach origami for industrial designers. I’m the author of four books
about origami and paper puzzles. I’m a jewelry maker, a designer,
and an origami artist. In 2014, I was the invited guest
at the Polish convention; a year later, in Italy; in 2017, it was France; last year, Mexico. And this is how far
a square sheet of paper can take you if you are fearless,
flexible and follow your vision. So just imagine how far
your square sheet of paper can take you. (Applause)(Cheering) Thank you. (Applause)

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