Sipho Mabona is an origami artist with a singular vision. He wants to spend several weeks of his life folding a life-sized elephant at an art museum in Beromünster, Switzerland.
“My main goal is to change people’s perception of origami. Mostly it’s viewed as a craft, which is often the case,” Mabona tells Co.Design. “But if you want something to be considered art it has to surpass the mere depiction of something. It has to do more than that.”
Mabona’s elephant definitely offers “more.” While the elephant’s core design only required about a week of folding at a desk, to create a 10-foot tall model, the paper alone will measure 2500 sf, or 50 feet long and wide. It will weigh around 220lbs, requiring three assistants working in tandem for weeks to pull it off.
Origami is usually a solo endeavor, and Mabona tells Co.Design that one of the biggest challenges will be working with more than one set of hands. “Working as a team is a whole different story.”
The project won’t require any special machinery aside from bone folders to make creases sharp. But anyone who has practiced origami on their own knows that a lot can still go wrong, especially in the final steps of the piece.
“I’m actually only worried about two maneuvers toward the end of the folding sequence,” Mabona confesses. “They are the folds that give the elephant the body volume. A lot of stuff is going on at the same time and it will be hard to coordinate.”
When finished, the elephant will be too large to fit through the doorways at the gallery, so it will likely live its life caged inside. Simply unfolding the elephant would damage the hefty piece, so any museum who wants to display the elephant next would need to remove a wall to make that happen.
You might see that as a sad fate for this paper sculpture, to be born and to die in the same small room. But that lifecycle also highlights the uniqueness of origami as a medium, and why Mabona is so taken with it in the first place.
“Origami is a transformative art form. You don’t add or subtract anything. Hence there are many parallels to us as human beings,” Mabona has written. “We have a certain potential that can’t be changed. But the question is, what can we make out of it? What are the limits of a single uncut sheet of paper?”
Mabona is currently fundraising for his project on IndieGoGo.