Micro-origami sculptures unfolding in water through capillary action

Etienne Cliquet's "Flottille" shows "micro-origami" of 2-3cm sheets of paper, intricately cut and folded, being placed in water; the sculptures draw the water in by capillary action and gracefully unfold.

Flottille (detail) (via Kottke)


  1. The stark grey background, the metallic look of the paper, and the slow, almost mechanical motions all make this feel a little like an old screensaver. If you watch it long enough, it really begins to look computer-generated, until the next one begins and the tweezers and surface tension break the feeling.

  2. these sheets are cut, where as I thought that origami always starts with a whole square sheet. Perhaps they are just using the term for its reference to folding…?

    1. Obviously, this fails the formal definition for origami in many ways — not least in that traditional origami isn’t intended to unfold itself when moistened. But that’s what the creator calls it. Words change.

        1. So, according to your unilateral adjudication of correctness in colloquial use of borrowed foreign words, it’s the thing that makes this “not-origami” is that it’s made from cut paper, and not that it’s practiced at tiny scales, designed to unfold, and requires a vessel of water in order to work?

          1. “it’s the thing that makes this “not-origami” is that it’s made from cut paper, and not that it’s practiced at tiny scales, designed to unfold, and requires a vessel of water in order to work?”

            Yes, actually, that’s exactly what he’s saying, and he’s correct. What is shown being placed in the water is kirigami. It is made from cut paper which defines it as being “not-origami”. The tiny scale, the design to unfold, and the vessel of water have no bearing on that description.

          2. There was nothing either unilateral or adjudicating in my comment. I inferred your original comment to say that because Cliquet was describing his own work, that however he describes it should be taken at face value because language isn’t static and so should not be nitpicked.

            I can understand why you, as someone who writes creatively, might take that position if that’s indeed what it was.

            We benefit from a common understanding of words as well as allowing organic change. Recognizing that and pointing out that both exist is not contentious and should be applied to creative works too.

          3. Give it a rest . Really.

            Any expert in the craft will tell you that this is not Origami, the author chosing to call it so does not make it such.

          4. Hi, I’m an expert in the art and I will not tell your that this is not origami.

            The first rule of origami is obey all rules. The second rule is that if you obey all rules, origami will never progress. Every innovation in the art has been met with cries of, “Not origami!” Oddly, those who cry loudest tend not to be practitioners. I’ve been folding long enough to see many broken rules come to be widely accepted methods.

            Paperfolding in its earliest form, both in the east and in the west, involved numerous cuts. That it does not today is a matter of fashion — there is no Académie française to make these rules that Cliquet has so flagrantly broken here. Nor should there be. Fold on!

          5. I’m also an expert in the art and I am saying this is not origami. I have no idea where you got these “rules” as they are certainly made up.

            The fact is there is origami, there is kirigami, and there is papercraft. These are not designations that are open for a creator to just pick one to slap onto what they’ve created, nor is it a “matter of fashion”. They have aspects that distinguish one form from another. They are all related and similar, but different.

      1. I was not so concerned about whether words change or not, more so that the author’s notion of why they appropriated the word might reveal more about their intentions.

  3. I remember doing this in school but we only made simple flowers with a message in the center. It was the early ’80s so fractals were unknown to us. Also we were ten years old.

  4. Anyone who has taken a kid out to a restaurant knows this trick to make a worm from a straw protector. Also, I remember years ago buying Japanese-made paper flowers that emerged from a tiny clamshell to open – delicate and beautiful. I would have liked to see these shapes open in color and wonder why the creator decided to use grey on grey.

  5. This isn’t origami. It’s simply paper-cutting. I, too, wish there were a fancier name for it.

  6. I *heart* capillary action. And, there’s a fractal thing going on. Classic BB post. (Maybe something about chromatography?)

    I remember using a glass capillary tube to draw blood to determine blood type in high school. Needed waiver signed by parent, though.

  7. Many (if not all) of the cuts are fractals, particularly the B-tree for #2.

    The first one reminds me of the description of the robot dog’s heat sink system unfolding in Snow Crash.

  8. “it’s the thing that makes this “not-origami” is that it’s made from cut paper”

    Um, well yes… that’s exactly what would make it not-origami. No need to insult Gtmac just because you used the word wrong. The word you are looking for is kirigami. Much the same as origami, but with the differense that it is cut. Now, if you want to define origami and kirigami to be the same thing, fine, but you will get a lot of “um, that is not origami”… which you did (I was too late to point it out).

    Now, some do allow some cuts and still call it origami, if it kind of stays inside the origami look and feel (I’m personally on the fence with it). But just because a paper is folded does not make it origami!

  9. Not really Kirigami either, which is traditionally a folded base, which is then cut and unfolded flat again to make a pattern, much like making paper snowflakes. These objects were obviously cut, then folded, then placed in water to stimulate unfolding. ‘Papercraft’ would be the proper term, or possibly ‘hydromechanical papercraft’

  10. Perhaps to end the arguing, it is most appropriately called “art”. :)
    You’re welcome.
    -Happy Mutant/non-puritanical Origamist

  11. KBERTs… that is brilliant synthesis… like a ripple on water. let’s be friends… let me kiss your brain. L.

  12. I’m glad to see someone else remembers clam flowers, those folded strips of colored paper that emerged from their clam shells and floated on a string when you put them in water.

    The video looks interesting from the opening still, but Vimeo doesn’t work with Firefox, iCab or Safari, and I’m not downloading yet another browser. This isn’t the 90s anymore.

    1. One might think that with three browsers you’d have used at least one to investigate why vimeo isn’t working for you. *Enjoys capillary action in Firefox*

  13. Hmm i wonder that so many people are arguing he meaning of the word orgami, we can understand why that word was used bec its tiny bits of paper and there is to some extent the use of folding..however this is beautiful and I thank the person for loading the video. I saw something similar when I was very young and this is the only time Ive ever seen it done so well again, Im totally inspired to try it out :)
    Thank u

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