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Interview: International Origami Internet Olympiad (IOIO)

by Andrey Ermakov, Ilan Garibi, Dzmitry Lysiuk, Peter Stein, Yaroslav Terehov

What is IOIO?

Peter Stein:

The IOIO is an international origami event on the internet started in 2011 by the Russian Origami Artist Andrey Ermakov. A number of tasks are sent to each participant, and all models have to be completed within a month. Models are photographed, submitted by folders, and an international jury judge the photos. One can win the competition as an individual or gain medals (gold, silver, and bronze) for each task. Each task scores individual medals with extra points. All participants from one country form a group, and medals are scored for each country as well.

Each juror votes individually, all tables then are summed, and the winner is simply the folder who receives the highest score. The tasks cover all fields of classical origami-like models folded from a diagram with a certain number of steps (from easy to complex), models folded from crease patterns, tessellations (mostly from CPs as well), corrugations, Kusudamas, 2D and 3D models, some with clear reference points, some without, models, where shaping is a main part of the final rendition. The final task always is a model that has to be created by the folder him/herself matching a theme given by the Jury for all participants. Precision of the folds, individual expression and rendition, and quality of the photos are the main criteria for judging.

Andrey Ermakov:

IOIO is a complicated matter that cannot be described briefly. It obviously has completely different meanings for different people. For the casual folders it's merely a fun entertaining event, while for the hardcore origamists it is a contest allowing them to show their skills to the whole world. For the designers it offers a chance to see their models folded by many origamists from all over the world.

What was the motivation to launch this project? What were you trying to achieve when you first started it? What are the objectives of the project today?

Andrey Ermakov:

IOIO has always been a non-commercial event with a clear and simple goal of promoting and cultivating origami around the world. This basic principle hasn't changed since the very beginning. The Olympiad continues to serve as a platform for discovering talented origamists. It helps them show their skills, gain confidence and motivates them to make progress. Recently we also launched a website that facilitates communication between the IOIO team and the contestants. We plan to actively develop this website and open our archives to the public. They will include all the pictures ever sent to us by the contestants.

Yaroslav Terehov:

It's really amazing to see how people get better at folding every year, how they start believing in themselves. I have seen some of our contestants blossom into famous origamists after winning the Olympiad. It makes you feel like you do something meaningful, not just entertaining.

Peter Stein:

In the beginning, I think the main goal was to spread the joy of folding paper and sharing this experience with others all over the world. In the meantime, it has drawn the attention of so many followers worldwide that it really has become a competition for creative paper folding artists to show their skills and share their art with a bigger community. It is also a platform for designers who get special attention for their work by having so many folders worldwide fold their models and add a personal touch to it.

Who are the team members?

The team members are:

Andrey Ermakov (AE), Russia, Founder of the Olympiad, 36 years old, web programmer in Saint-Petersburg.

Dzmitry Lysiuk (DL), Belarus, Testfolder and member of the jury of the IOIO in 2012-2014 and 2016-present, 47 years old, engineer and researcher in physics specializing in optics and spectroscopy in Minsk.

Peter Stein (PS), Germany, Testfolder and member of the jury of the IOIO since 2015. Won 1st place in 2014 (IV. IOIO), 55 years old, leads a small music school, plays in various orchestras and chamber music and some solo violin recitals near Cologne.

Yaroslav Terehov (YT), Russia, Member of the jury of the IOIO since 2013, translator and "sort of community manager", 30 years old, lives in a forest in Moscow, a biologist mostly interested in behavior, evolution and ecology, worked in several related areas: as a teacher, popular science journalist, translator etc.

How many years have you been folding? What was the book that brought you into the origami world?

AE: I folded my first paper boat about 30 years ago but I started folding something meaningful around 14 years ago. The first book that really got my attention was Works of Satoshi Kamiya. I guess it defined my tastes and led me into the real origami world.

DL: I have been folding for 10 years, starting on August 2009. By that time there were already plenty of diagrams and patterns on the internet to study. It's hard to remember the first book. I would rather name the authors who interested me the most: Roman Diaz, Manuel Sirgo, Brian Chan, Hojyo Takashi, Satoshi Kamiya.

PS: I started at the age of 12 when my mother took me to an origami class at our local community college. That was over 40 years ago. I folded from the diagrams that our teacher had prepared for us. In 2006 I became aware of the youtube community of origami channels after I went to an origami exhibition in Salzburg, Austria, where I was deeply impressed by a model by Stephan Weber. I got in contact with him and started folding paper again. I now have quite a big library of origami books.

YT: I found my first origami book about 20 years ago by accident. In hindsight, I understand that It was pretty bad and also pirated, but it was enough for me to get hooked. Not quite sure what I was doing for the next ten years, but then I found the Oriart forum with its enthusiastic community and started to learn seriously. Even though I always respected super complex origami, I knew it wasn't for me. My hands prefer folding sharp and clear forms. My favorite artist since the beginning has been Roman Diaz, his angular and very friendly-to-the-folder models embody everything I like in traditional origami. After that, I inevitably stepped onto the path of abstract geometric origami and, as Robin Scholz (another one of my favorite designers) said, there is no way back.

Do you also create models? If so, what do you like to create?

AE: Yes, I have created about 500 models. I don't want to restrict myself, so I design all kinds of models: traditional origami, kusudamas, 3D models, tessellations and corrugations.

DL: Yes, I do, though I don't have many designs and they are not that complicated. Usually, they feature some curves and non-flat folding. I like creating abstract symbols or objects, like my loaf of bread made for the IOIO-2014 or clematis flower (IOIO-2016).

PS: Yes, I love creating my own models. I am mainly interested in simple models with only a few folds, and I love curved folds. They bring so much life into the paper. I try to achieve personal expression by bringing individual curved folds into my models. Mostly I like folding models by using the wet folding technique. I admire artists like Eric Joisel, and of course the godfather of modern origami Akira Yoshizawa.

YT: I do sometimes. I mostly create corrugations and 3D tesselations. As for the sources of inspiration... I have been really enjoying ancient and medieval history and art since I was a kid, so there definitely are some historical and mystical motifs in my works, something Lovecraftian and, of course, a lot of Escher's and Giger's influences. You simply can't ignore Escher if you fold tessellations.

Why Origami? Is it your only hobby? Or is it your profession?

AE: Origami perfectly fits the skills I acquired over the years. My most important hobbies are math, which allows me to design new models and explore the theoretical aspects of origami; programming, which helps with the calculations; and graphic editors that I use to draw the fruits of my labor.

DL: Because the universe wanted it. I heard the word "origami" in my head, and I followed that path which led me to happiness. It's one of my parallel lives. I organize exhibitions, sometimes I give masterclasses, I often take commissions and sometimes even get paid a bit. I am very proud to be a part of the Olympiad. So it's not for me to decide if this is a hobby or a profession.

PS: I am a professional musician, I play the violin, teach and conduct, so origami certainly is sort of a hobby, but it has become another personal artistic expression of mine.

YT: I wouldn't call it a hobby or a profession. It's more of a way of life. Over the years origami shapes your subconscious, affects your dreams. Do other people often notice that you unconsciously fold any paper getting into your hands, like tickets and shop receipts? It becomes perfectly natural to us. As an ethologist, I am comfortable with this.

How did you all get together?

Peter Stein: I participated in the fourth origami Olympiad, which I won, and after that, I got in contact with Andrey Ermakov, who asked me to become part of the team. I am happy now to be one of the jurors and also have two of my models being part of the task list in 2016 and 2018. In February 2019 I went to Moscow for a concert trip and met some of the team members in person.

Dzmitry Lysiuk: We met at the internet forums. When I won IOIO-2011, Andrey invited me to join the jury.

Yaroslav Terehov: Praise the Internet! I was one of the admins of the Oriart forum, the cradle of Russian origami community. The Olympiad itself started as a forum contest so eventually, I was drawn into it.

How many participants did you have this year? How many participants have you had since you started?

This year we had 550 contestants (404 men and 146 women) from 57 countries. 190 of them got to the second round. The numbers have been increasing steadily every year. For comparison, in 2011 we had 109 contestants from 24 countries. But more importantly, it's quality over quantity, which we'll discuss later.

Which are the top five participating countries?

Peter Stein: Last year China just broke all records––there were so many great and creative folders––it simply was amazing. Russia, of course, always had a strong team in this Olympiad, maybe because it started there, and the news spread first in this country. Andrey, the head of the Olympiad, and Yaroslav, the tirelessly active promoter of this internet event, certainly have a lot of followers in the scene in Russia. Dzmitry Lysiuk is another fine artist who deserves greater attention to his work. There have not been any Japanese participants since I have been following the Olympiad, I do not know why. France, Spain, Italy, Germany and the USA have strong teams of folders, but there are some amazing artists in Brasil, Indonesia, Vietnam, Belgium and this year in Peru as well.

Was there an artist who won more than once?

Dzmitry Lysiuk: That would be me! So far I am the only contestant who has won the Olympiad twice: in 2011 and 2015. I intend to take a break from judging and participate again someday.

How long does it take to prepare all the diagrams and everything around it? What is the process?

Peter Stein: Andrey Ermakov is the head of all this––I think he never sleeps, he is busy the entire year, creating models, diagramming the most complex designs, working on the website, putting it all together and answering the posts on the various origami forums on the internet.

Andrey Ermakov: This is a long and complicated process, taking up to six months. Most of the time is spent drawing the diagrams in a unified style. At the same time, we test and edit them if needed. The resulting task book is about 65-75 pages long.

If I want my model to be one of the tasks, what should I do?

Peter Stein: There is always the possibility to participate as a designer – just send in your model. The diagram can even be drawn by hand. If it is chosen to be one of the Olympic tasks, Andrey will draw a perfect diagram of it!

Over the years, can you say the level is rising? If so, can you give us an example?

Andrey Ermakov: It is definitely rising. You can check the archives to see for yourself and note the difference between the earlier and later Olympiad works.

Peter Stein: The level certainly is rising continually. You can only participate by sending in photos of your final rendition, so the quality of the photos, the settings, the lightings, the perfection of the folds, the personal expression, choice of paper – everything is important if you want to stand out from the crowd.

Yaroslav Terehov: It's one of the things we are especially proud of. Starting as a friendly forum game, the Olympiad has grown into the global art contest with the highest skill level. Remember, "here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that." This quote is very important to understand if you are interested in the current flow of IOIO.

Here are photos of some exemplary works from IOIO-2011.


Left: Pelican, creator: Benoit Zenker, photo/fold: Yurtkul Atilla (Turkey); Right: Collie, creator: Nicolas Gajardo, photo/fold: Pere Olivella (Spain)


Left: Kusudama, creator: Maria Sinajskaya, photo/fold: Dzmitry Lysiuk (Belarus); Right: Mr. Rabbit, creator: Nicolas Gajardo, photo/fold: Fabiana Sanapanya

Here are this year's three best images:


Top: Through time and space, creator: Peter Stein, photo/fold: Jhordan Arauzo H (Peru); Left: Scorpion, creator: Li Lianhua, photo/fold: Aleksandr Timoshik (Russia) 2018 winner; Right: Lion, creator: Andrey Ermakov, photo/fold: Aleksandr Mironenko (Russia)

To conclude this interview, we share diagrams for two models. The lion was designed by Andrey Ermakov, and the clematis was designed by Dzmitry Lysiuk

Click on photo for diagrams. Lion by Ermakov, folded by Poddub.

Click on photos for diagrams. Left: folded by Alejandro Pascual Marquez, Spain; Right: folded by WEN Shuoran, China