Interview With Paper Engineer Matt Shlian

Interview With Paper Engineer Matt Shlian

“As a paper engineer, Matt Shlian‘s work is rooted in print media, book arts, and commercial design, though he frequently finds himself collaborating with a cadre of scientists and researchers who are just now recognizing the practical connections between paper folding and folding at microscopic and nanoscopic scales.” — Ghostly International


Tell us a little about your background –and what path led you to what you’re doing now?
I began as an undergrad at Alfred University. I originally went to school for ceramics, but realized early on that I was interested in everything. I studied, glass, painting, performance, sound and by the end I had a dual major in ceramics and print media. I wasn’t making traditional print or ceramic work at that point.  Instead I would create large digital prints and using a series of cut scores and creases create large page pop up spreads. I was making 4 foot v-folds or strut folds. I really had no idea what I was doing. I wanted the work to be interactive and for the image to relate to the folds.

Figuring out the pieces was like solving a puzzle. I’m a highly visual person; I have to see something to make sense of it. One of my faculty advisers, Anne Currier, started buying me pop-up books and I started dissecting them and figuring out how they worked. After graduating from Alfred University in 2002, I spent three years working as a paper engineer in the field of commercial design. I made movable paper contraptions, from pop-up books to greeting cards to artist books and kinetic sculptures. After working in the industry I decided that there was more to paper engineering than commercial design and I returned to school to receive my MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art.

I now work with scientists using paper engineering as a way to understand the flexible nature of micro-structures. A symbiotic relationship has developed between my collaboration with researchers and my artistic practice. My approach to understanding this is hands on; the microscopic folds can be mapped on a human scale out of paper and used as a basis for sculpture.

Interview With Paper Engineer Matt Shlian

What have been some favorite recent projects / clients / collaborations?
I’m a bit all over the place in the studio right now.  I designed packaging for P&G, a few commissions for hospitals and hotels, a new series for the Queen of Jordan.  My team at the University of Michigan has won NSF (National Science Foundation) award (EFRI ODISSEI) on a nano-origami project that combines art and engineering to further technology. I have also worked with Thea Eck on a site – Eight Emperors which launched late last year. I’ve also worked on a series for Ghostly that I am super excited about.

Interview With Paper Engineer Matt Shlian
Interview With Paper Engineer Matt Shlian

How would you describe your creative process, start to finish?
It’s usually pretty varied. I try to begin without a clear goal in mind, working within a series of limitations. For example on one piece I’ll only use curved folds, or make my lines this length or that angle etc. Other times I begin with an idea for movement and try to achieve that shape or form somehow. Along the way something usually goes wrong and a mistake becomes more interesting than the original idea and I work with that instead. I’d say my starting point is curiosity; I have to make the work in order to understand it. If I can completely visualize my final result I have no reason to make it- I need to be surprised.

Interview With Paper Engineer Matt Shlian

How long did it take for you to master your technique?
HA!  I have my students read the Malcolm Gladwell article “10000 hours” each semester. I’ve put in years and I wouldn’t consider myself a master of anything.

Interview With Paper Engineer Matt Shlian

How did you become involved with Ghostly International?
I met Sam at a TED talk a few years ago.  We both presented out work and met up afterwards.  We saw lot of similarities in our worlds and started making things together.

Interview With Paper Engineer Matt Shlian
Interview With Paper Engineer Matt Shlian

What does a typical day at work involve for you?
I’m in the studio early and work all morning. I like to work on a few things before getting near the black hole of email around lunch time. Today is a bit different; I just got back from teaching two weeks at Penland so right now I’m in catch up mode. I’ve been packing up artwork and answering emails, writing back to students, planning the semester ahead for a few hours. I have a meeting in an hour and after that its art making time. Depending on the day I might be designing things for clients or working on my own stuff. Right now I am swamped with deadlines for commissions.

What is a source of inspiration that is not art/design related?
Music plays a large part in my process.

Interview With Paper Engineer Matt ShlianInterview With Paper Engineer Matt Shlian

If you had an extra hour each day what would you do with it?
Probably more of the same.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Always ask for a kill fee.

Were you involved in any amazing shows or events? Where and when?
I had a piece in the Ghostly show last September at the Art Directors
Club in NYC that was pretty big.

Interview With Paper Engineer Matt Shlian

Interview With Paper Engineer Matt Shlian

If you could collaborate with anyone in this world, dead or alive, who would it be?
I’d love to hang out with Buckminster Fuller. I bet he’d be into some of this stuff.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our viewers?
www.mattshlian.com

Interview With Paper Engineer Matt Shlian

Thank you so much Matt for taking the time to answer our questions and share your work with us. We look forward to more of your astounding work in the future. To our viewers, be sure to post below with your thoughts and if you know of any artists that work in the realm of paper that you would like to be interviewed be sure to shoot us an e-mail.

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