‘Origami in the Garden’ Brings Science, Math and Art Together at the Atlanta Botanical Garden – WABE
The ancient tradition of origami represents the intersection of art, mathematics and science. Robert J. Lang is among the world’s leading masters of the art form.
The eminent physicist and engineer has built some of the most intricate and intricate origami models ever created. Lang is also a collaborator of the famous sculptor Kevin Boxand their collaboration is presented in the exhibition “Origami in the garden” to Atlanta Botanical Garden until October 16.
Lang joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk about her remarkable life discovering the secrets of origami.
Highlights of the interview follow below.
How a childhood hobby became a lifelong passion and career:
“It was a way to create neat and beautiful things out of almost nothing. I didn’t need anything but a sheet of paper, and so many crafts, you need materials and tools. It takes paint and glue and all that stuff, and consumables, but the paper was free and unlimited, so I was able to have fun for a really long time,” Lang said.
“I was good at math in high school and loved math, which led me to pursue a science career in engineering and then applied physics. I studied lasers, and in particular, I I’m focused on theoretical analysis – so using math to learn how to achieve the goals I had in designing lasers, making them more powerful or brighter, other interesting properties,” Lang recounted. “Origami had always been my hobby, so I had developed a pretty good intuitive understanding of origami, but I felt like origami was subject to the same kinds of laws as lasers… and that if I could describe these laws explicitly in mathematical terms, then I could use the mathematical tools to help me accomplish the artistic things I wanted to accomplish with origami. And it turned out to be successful beyond my wildest dreams.
On Lang and Box’s collaborative metal origami sculptures at the Atlanta Botanical Garden:
“I think what makes the collaboration work is first of all that we bring something complementary to the collaboration. We design origami designs, and Kevin has both a vision for metal artwork, but also the artistic skill to figure out how to make something out of metal that still speaks like paper,” Lang said. .
“The techniques used to create the metal sculptures, casting and manufacturing…involve cutting and welding etc. And so you might think that’s a move away from folding paper, but it’s actually possible to bend thin sheet metal into origami shapes. And I did part of it. But when you’re actually bending metal, there’s a tradeoff in rendering, so what you end up with looks less like paper origami and more like the result of those molding and manufacturing processes. So the paradox is that even though we’re using techniques that seem far removed from paper, it ultimately stays more true to the concept of single-sheet, uncut paper origami than if we were actually trying to bend metal.
Folding mechanics who are experts in rocket science, medicine and airbag design:
“One of the other beautiful areas of application of origami and engineering is medicine, and it is because the problem is similar to that of space, the thing you want to do is small for travel because in space you have to put it in a rocket In medicine you want it to enter the body through as small a hole as possible and then you want it to expand to produce a kind of functionality,” Lang explained. “One of the things I worked on probably 10, 15 years ago was a heart implant…. The treatment consisted of a bag that wraps around a diseased heart to provide some support. But it had to fit into a small injector so it could be inserted between the ribs; you did not have to undergo open-heart surgery. And so I consulted with this company about developing folding designs that would reduce this bag to a small shape so that it could also fit in its injector.
“I also worked on airbag design and that was interesting. The work I did was purely mathematical. It wasn’t about figuring out how to bend a particular airbag in a particular way, but rather how to figure out what was the math that could be used in a computer algorithm to do airbag folding.The interesting thing about that was that the math needed to model airbag flattening in a computer program…was the same as the math needed to design complicated origami insects, which was my specialty,” Lang said. “I was just trying to make better illustrations, but the math doesn’t know what it’s going to be used for, and so the same math is very often turn out to have practical applications in real life.”
Visitors to the Atlanta Botanical Garden can still view Robert J. Lang’s contributions to the “Origami in the Garden” sculpture collection in person until October 16. More information is available at https://atlantabg.org/origami-in-the-garden/