The vast majority of diorama artists, myself included, come from the world of kit modelling, so it’s natural for us to populate our dioramas with plastic and resin kits. But there are many other materials to choose from.
A case in point is Terada Mokei, the brainchild of architect and designer Naoki Terada. Using innovative die-cutting techniques, Terada has created a series of paper diorama kits in 1:100 and 1:50 scales. They depict scenes ranging from a tranquil day at the park to a Gemini astronaut spacewalk.
Although paper kits have been around for a while, they’re usually designed as scale miniatures. A paper kit of a building, for example, typically comprises pre-cut sheets printed with photorealistic images of its exterior walls. These kits are suited to replicating subjects which have large planar surfaces and fairly simple geometry, but their limitations become apparent when more complex shapes are involved. These types of paper kits are the poor cousins of injection molded kits, offering slightly less realism at a lower cost.
What’s refreshing about Terada Mokei’s dioramas is that they’re not designed to be scale replicas of their full-size counterparts, but interpretations of them. Mokei’s approach might be labelled reductivist, after the art movement of the 1950s which was dedicated to simplifying form and colour in painting and sculpture. What’s more important, however, is that the kits don’t try to hide the fact that they’re made of paper. Instead, they leverage the unique qualities of this material: its texture, the precision with which it can be cut, and its fragility.
Mokei dioramas are very much akin to origami sculptures. Both are based on a minimalist aesthetic and celebrate the delicate beauty and sculptural possibilities of paper. Although we tend to think of paper as something simply to write on, Mokei demonstrates that it can be much more.