Beyond the Fold | Paul Jackson | TEDxShenkarCollege

Beyond the Fold | Paul Jackson | TEDxShenkarCollege


Translator: Sanja Srbljinović Čuček
Reviewer: Tanya Cushman Hello. What did I do for a career? Well, I followed my passion. Because, as my life was unfolding, my career was literally folding. Paper folding. When I was a young boy, I lived in Yorkshire,
in the North of England, and my mum used to clean houses. In the school holidays, I would have to go with her
because I couldn’t stay home alone. One house that she cleaned had a bathroom
with an incredible stained-glass window, and every time I went to that house, I would spend a long period of time
inside the bathroom. Why? Because the stained glass would cast
amazing patterns of light and shade all over the bathroom walls. It was like being inside a magic rainbow to a young boy. So to occupy myself, what I did was take sheets
of toilet tissue and just play with them. And one day, to my complete amazement, I saw that I’d made this: a paper yacht. (Applause) Thank you. I was so excited! From that day onwards,
I made hundreds of paper yachts, and origami, the art of paper folding, became my hobby. As an older boy,
I became interested in art. And when I was 18, I left school
and went to art college for six years. In my first year at art college, I joined the British Origami Society and found myself to be the center
of some attention. Why? Well, I was one of the few people
making new designs. And this gave me some status
and deepened my interest in folding paper. In my last year at art school,
I was at the Slade School of Art in London and my professor heard about
the origami I was doing and asked me to bring some in to show him. So by this time, I’d made
lots and lots of different designs – all kinds of animals and buildings and objects and geometric shapes – so I proudly brought in a few of them and put them on the table
for us to look at. He looked at them, became angry, and said, ‘Get them out of here. This is not art! I don’t want to see them!’ Wow! That reaction changed my life, because from that moment,
I was an artist who folded paper. So I completed my time in the art school and just belly-flopped
out into the real world as many art students do. How was I to make a living? How do you make a living folding paper? I didn’t know. Nobody had ever done this in the West. I had no role model. So I tried lots of things, and they all failed. Everything failed, nothing worked. And then, after two years, two things happened, one after the other, which together gave me a living. First thing that happened
was I found a new use for paper: writing letters. So I wrote a letter to 105 different higher education
art and design courses all over London – I’ll never forget the number – saying, ‘If you give me
three days teaching, I’ll work with your students
and teach them to fold.’ And I got 10 or 15 replies, and suddenly I was working
and earning money and feeling good about myself. Except the teaching
wasn’t really very good because I was teaching origami designs, my designs – horses and butterflies – thinking, Why do students of design
need to learn these designs? because these are the products of folding. What I should be teaching
is the process of folding, the techniques of folding. So I changed all my workshops
to teach the techniques of folding, and then it just seemed to work. And since that time, I’ve worked
in more than 80 schools of design all over the world, teaching all kinds of students to work with all kinds of materials to make all kinds of product. Now, the second thing that happened was that the great master
of origami in Japan, Akira Yoshizawa, was invited to England
as a guest of the British Origami Society, and he was to appear on BBC Television, and I was invited to accompany him
to the TV Centre, and I was really honoured
to be invited to go. Unfortunately, on the morning
of the broadcast, the ceiling in the hovel
of the bedsit that I was living in decided to unfold itself, and it fell down on top of all my stuff. Everything I had was covered
in a layer of gray plaster, and I was really traumatized. Everything I had was destroyed. What do I do? Do I stay and fix it? Or do I leave it and go to the BBC? And what do you think I did? Yes, I went to the BBC, where, by complete chance, I met a publisher who had just published
a small book of paper aeroplanes. And it was selling quite well. And did I have any ideas
for any other books? Did I? Yes, I did. Two weeks later, I signed a contract
for my first origami book, and I’ve written 40 books since then on origami for children, for adults, also books about pop-ups
and paper sculpture, packaging, and recently, it’s a series of books
about folding techniques for designers. So, there I was, suddenly earning money. And that’s pretty much
how I’ve earned my living ever since. Now, one by-product of teaching
folding techniques to the students, and not the origami designs, was that I started to use
those techniques in my own artwork. And I began to develop
a language of form that was abstract. And so I call these
folded paper sculptures rather than origami designs, and I found that I could readily
exhibit these in museums and galleries. And I’ve been exhibiting ever since. Now, that’s pleasing for two reasons: First reason, because I’m an artist, and all artists like to exhibit. The second reason
is it proved my professor wrong. (Laughter) Origami – folding paper –
could be accepted as art. And believe me, there is nothing more satisfying
than proving your professor wrong. (Laughter) (Applause) So, what kept me going through the ridicule, the hardship, the rejection, the collapsing ceilings? Why didn’t I give up
and do something more sensible? Well, I love folding paper. What other reason could there be? So, I want to explain
why I love it so much, and the best way to explain is to show you. So, the first reason is this: that folding paper
is something anybody can do, anywhere, at any time. All you need is a piece of paper. You don’t need any tools, you don’t need equipment, you don’t need a workshop. It’s not high-tech, of course, and it’s not even low-tech; it’s what I call ‘no tech’, (Laughter) meaning that you make it with nothing, you make it with just your body. Now, I think in today’s high-tech,
digitalized environment, that’s a very valuable and special idea that’s inspiring to makers
and designers everywhere. Second reason is folding paper
is inherently smart and aesthetic; it’s not a dumb thing to do. It’s a dance between
your hands and the paper. It’s a ballet, a kind of duet,
a pas de deux. It’s also a partnership
between your hands and your mind, not so much with your eyes, not in my case anyway. When you work like that,
it’s very intimate, something very fulfilling, very rewarding. People enjoy to fold. So you put something into it,
and you get a lot back. Third reason is that folding paper
is a kind of magic. It’s not a trick, it’s magic. But perhaps a better word is alchemy. Do you remember the old alchemists? They were slightly crazy people who tried to convert
ordinary metal to gold, usually by boiling it for 10 years. So, of course, they failed
because they didn’t understand, in those days, about chemical elements and so on. But I think that folding paper is a kind of alchemy. But it’s a successful alchemy because you take something ordinary, just a sheet of paper, and you can form something from it
that’s a piece of gold. So I want to show you what my piece of gold is
that I’ve been making here. It’s almost finished. It’s a bird. (Applause) (Cheers) This is my design. Thank you. No, no, no! Thank you for liking it! (Laughter) And fourthly, why do I like it? Because I can give it to somebody. I can share what I make. So, please. Thank you. Origami, folding paper, is not exclusive; it’s inclusive. When I was an art student, only three people were interested
in what I was making: my mum, my dad and my best friend. But when you fold paper,
anybody can appreciate it because it touches people quite deeply. There’s something about the activity
that anybody connects with. Doesn’t matter if you’re a child, if you’re an adult with this background
or that culture or whatever. Everybody finds something of value
in folding paper. To me, that’s incredibly special. So you put all these things together, and suddenly folding paper is not trivial. It’s not something to get mad about. It’s something to enjoy and to pursue. So what’s my message? Why am I here, really? Four words: Believe in your passion. Those passions are ignited, sometimes in strange circumstances or inconsequential circumstances, anytime, anywhere, even inside a magic rainbow,
playing with toilet tissue. If you so choose, those small experiences
can define your life. Thank you very much! (Applause) (Cheers)

9 thoughts on “Beyond the Fold | Paul Jackson | TEDxShenkarCollege

  1. A truly inspiring story and engaging talk Paul, congratulations! Got to love the ending too, where you fold up the table!

  2. Wow, congratulations Paul! What poise and passion! You are an articulate and inspiring ambassador for the origami community. Thank you!

  3. I was lucky enough to have Paul as a tutor at Ravensbourne College back in pre history. He's one of the best influences I've had. Despite my career in visual effects, due to Paul I always keep an eye on what is real. And paper is my love.

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