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1984 Paper Cranes: Visual Art tells two seemingly different tales

Tuesday 05th, December 2017 / 14:51
By Michael Podgurney 

A thoughtful exploration of oppression and hope through senbazuru
Photo byBonnie Patton

EDMONTON – Bonnie Patton was inspired to create 1984 Cranes, a visual arts piece, by two stories that have more in common than you might initially think: George Orwell’s seminal novel 1984 and the story of Sadako Sasaki as a historical figure represented in Elenor Coerr’s 1977 novel Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. War and oppression might be the obvious connection but both narratives have parallel aspects of defeat and grit which are the themes that pervade Patton’s work.  

The piece will include 984 paper cranes fashioned from the pages of Orwell’s book hung from the ceiling and spaced evenly throughout the exhibit. Sadako’s story revolves around these cranes. She was diagnosed with leukaemia as a 12 year old girl, ten years after she survived the Hiroshima massacre, and embarked on a mission to fold 1000 paper cranes, a Japanese tradition known as Senbazuru. The idea is if you fold the 1000 cranes, within a year the gods will grant you one wish. Sadako’s wish was to live. 1984 is the story of Winston Smith, a citizen of a totalitarian regime who yearns for freedom from the oppression of his society. He inhabits a world where nothing can be taken for truth, life has no meaning or enjoyment and Big Brother watches your every move. But, where’s the connection? The answer lies in the interplay of the themes of failure and resilience in the stories. 

“The cranes are fragile and delicate,” explains Patton, noting Orwell’s story will not be completely discernible within the exhibit.  

“The proliferation of words like ‘Winston,’ ‘Goldstein,’ ‘Julia,’ ‘Big Brother,’ ‘newspeak,’ and ‘doublethink’ make it clear what book the cranes are from.”  

As the cranes hang from the ceiling and flutter to the unpredictable whims of the atmosphere, Patton hopes that people will get a sense of vulnerability, but recognize the strength of people when they come together. 

“While an individual may fail, many individuals together have power and opportunity.”  

It is important to have an understanding of both Sadako’s story, as well as the Orwell novel to pick up on one of the major themes within the piece. The exhibit is framed by the content of the stories and the character’s struggles. Winston and Sadako face similar conflicts but their physical circumstances are drastically different. Winston inhabits an imaginary totalitarian dystopia, forged in the imagination of a visionary writer, while Sadako faced a horrifying reality, created by the good intentions of a world superpower.  

While Sadako is defined by the legacy she left behind, Winston is defined by neatly ordered words on the surface of precisely cut pages.  

These pages, which contain the story of unrealized resolution to suffering, are the perfect vehicle for the concept that the cranes symbolize in relation to Coerr’s story of Sadako. Sadako and Winston wish for escape from circumstance; both fail to reach this freedom despite achieving their goals, and Patton plays on this angle. Sadako made the requisite 1000 paper cranes she needed to fulfill her life’s wish but was not granted the realization of this wish; in the novel she falls short of her goal.  

Though Patton “freed Winston from the confines of the book, his wish still didn’t come true;” the wish to find freedom from the box in which he is forced to live. Whether or not these stories and the resulting art piece are about hope or hopelessness is entirely up to the one beholding them.  


1984 Cranes will debut on December 7th, and will run to January 20th at the Art Incubator Gallery at Hartcourt House (Edmonton).

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