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Professor Jiangmei Wu uses the science of paper folding to create artistic designs

Nov. 16, 2016

In the hands of Jiangmei Wu, assistant professor in the School of Art and Design, an ordinary piece of paper soon becomes something more.

jiangmei wu


She creates large, beautiful, artistic structures by folding pieces of paper and using advanced digital design techniques.

“I’m intrigued by both the simplicity and the sophistication found in paper folding,” Wu said. “I’m interested in how it can be done with both digital and hand-making techniques, and how these aspects work together within the conceptual spaces in which they occur.”

To get ideas for her creations, Wu will often start by playing with a piece of paper. 

“When paper is folded, it stores kinetic energy,” Wu said. “Contracting and unfurling a folded piece of paper allows me to create forms with various dynamic depths and volume. From a simple folded design, I work on ways to multiply it into something that is complex and structural by following the mathematical and hierarchical principles as found in biological forms. The structural whole takes a completely different form and expression than the individual parts. This generative process is sometimes accomplished using computation design algorithms and computer-aided-design programs.”

The finished product from this marriage of science and art with its intricate folds and unique structures is extraordinary. 

“Often when people see the design, they don’t believe it comes from simple flat pieces of paper, a material that is so common in everyday life,” she said. “When I explain to them some of the design is folded from one uncut sheet of paper, they usually exclaim with delight. I’m very happy to see this kind of reaction from people when they see my art -- a moment of surprise, wonder and inspiration.”

Wu has been teaching at IU for nearly 10 years, and she shares her love of paper folding with students in her design studio class.

“Paper folding exercises allow the students to explore the dichotomies between flat and volumetric, static and kinetic, virtual and physical, and digital and analog,” she said. “Paper folding is so simple. It doesn’t require any sophisticated tools. And anyone can fold. It is a great exercise for students of all levels.”

Wu is among 10 artists who will be featured on a new program on WTIU called “Celebration in Art: Presented by The Weekly Special,” which will premiere at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 27. The show will introduce viewers to Indiana artists from across the state and celebrate the best in Indiana craftsmanship. A preview of the show is available online.

Jiangmei Wu's work with students aligns with priorities outlined in the university’s Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including a commitment to student success.

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