IU professor’s ‘folded light art’ to be on exhibit

Jiangmei Wu can still recall an assignment in a beginning architecture studio class she took while seeking her undergraduate design degree: fold a piece of paper into a three-dimensional object without cutting it.

“I’m from China and went to architecture school in Shanghai, so because of that background, paper folding has always fascinated me very much,” said Wu, a lecturer in IU Bloomington’s Department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design, part of the College of Arts and Sciences. “I still recall how challenging that assignment was, even more than 20 years later.”

folded light art

An example of Wu’s folded light art that will be on display.

Her interest in paper folding was piqued again after watching “Between the Folds,” a 2009 PBS documentary that chronicles the lives of artists and theoretical scientists who have abandoned more conventional career paths to become modern-day paper folders, their work reshaping ideas of creativity and the relationship between art and science.

“I got really excited and started to experiment using some of my old techniques,” Wu said. “That includes grafting, where you’re creating patterns that can be repeated, or scaled up, so your object can potentially become very large.”

That work sparked her recent project, sculptures made from recyclable material and LED lights she’s dubbed “folded light art.”

She displayed her work at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York earlier this year, where it attracted the attention of manufacturers interested in using her process to create products. She’s working now with the IU Research and Technology Corp. to navigate the tricky path of patents, negotiations and agreements.

folded light art

More of Wu’s folded light art.

Wu’s excitement is palpable as she talks about her work, particularly about the possibilities it holds for the future.

“It’s a very exciting field,” she said. “You’re looking at a new way of understanding the manufacturing process and materials. For example, architects are discussing a type of flat foldable structure that can be deployed as temporary structures, such as a shelter. Or look at 3-D printers. Right now, printing technology can only handle fairly small objects. So could you create something that’s very small in size, print it and then use these techniques to make the object very large? It’s a whole new world of possibility.”

You can see Wu’s work right here in Btown at an exhibition titled “Folding Into Light” at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center. The show opens Nov. 1, and is on display through Nov. 30.

Wu earned an undergraduate degree in urban planning and design from the College of Architecture and Urban Planning of Tongji University in Shanghai, and a master of science in interior design and master of fine arts in graphic design from Indiana University.

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