Fractal Ruin for MASS MoCA

Apr 25 Mon
Sculpture Send-off
@ Institute For Figuring

Christina Simons and Jake Dotson assembling “Fractal Ruin” at the Institute For Figuring, Los Angeles, April 2016.

What can you do with business cards? You can hand them out to colleagues, or you can fold them into cubes.

What can you do with 10,000 business cards? This month the IFF set out to explore that question with 10,000 specially designed fluorescent orange cards embellished with psychedelic swirly patterns. Our inspiration is the pioneering work of Dr. Jeannine Mosely, inventor of business card origami and world-leading practitioner of fractal paper folding.


Business cards designed for the IFF by Cindy Kusuda and Margaret Wertheim.

In the late 1990’s, Mosely famously folded a level three Menger Sponge fractal out of 66,000 business cards, an object that the IFF exhibited at Machine Project in 2006. The Mosely-IFF collaboration continued in 2012 when together we undertook the construction of the more challenging Mosely Snowflake Sponge fractal out of 50,000 cards at USC. That endeavor piqued our interest: what else, besides fractals, could be created using these techniques?

Dr. Jeannine Mosely assembling octants of the “Business Card Menger Sponge” at Machine Project, Los Angeles, 2006. Exhibition curated by the IFF.

Fractals – perfectly regular geometric structures – are self-similar at every scale, thus each level of a fractal has the same architecture. The natural world abounds in fractal forms: clouds, coastlines, forked lightening, ferns and broccoli are all in this class. Yet nothing is nature is perfectly mathematical. What would happen, we wondered, if we followed this organic lead, allowing ourselves to deviate from the geometric ideal?


Detail of “Fractal Ruin” by the Institute For Figuring, revealing degenerate fractal structure.

For the past month we’ve been conducting an experiment, giving ourselves license to go wild. From the simple seeds of Mosely’s cubes we’ve been exploring the genetic potential of fractal architecture loosed into the realm of organicism. Just as living creatures evolve over time, so too our fractal monster has been evolving as it grows; changing, morphing and gradually acquiring a unique deviant glory.


Arrangement of X and Y modules in the mid-section layer of a “Mosely Snowflake Sponge Business Card Origami Fractal Tower” (drawing by Margaret Wertheim).

The resulting object, a Fractal Ruin, will be exhibited at MASS MoCA in the forthcoming exhibition Explode Every Day: An Inquiry into the Phenomemon of Wonder, opening May 28, 2016.

Also in the exhibition will be a business card origami wall frieze that we’ll grow on-site on the gallery walls.


“Fractal Ruin” sculpture in process at the Institute For Figuring, April 2016.

Fractal Ruin by Margaret Wertheim and the Institute For Figuring has been constructed with design assistance from Christine Wertheim. Folded by Christina Simons, Jake Dotson and Margaret Wertheim.

Explode Every Day: An Inquiry into the Phenomenon of Wonder is co-organized for MASS MoCA by curator Denise Markonish and artist Sean Foley.

Artists in the exhibition include: Pierre Huyghe, Fred Tomaselli, Michael Light, Nina Katchadourian, Tom Friedman, Tristan Duke, Ryan and Trevor Oakes, and the Institute For Figuring.


Nearly complete “Fractal Ruin” at the Institute For Figuring, Los Angeles, April 2016.