Matt Shlian


Artist Statement

As a paper engineer my work is rooted in print media, book arts and commercial design. Beginning with an initial fold, a single action causes a transfer of energy to subsequent folds, which ultimately manifest in drawings and three dimensional forms. I use my engineering skills to create kinetic sculpture which have lead to collaborations with scientists at the University of Michigan. We work on the nanoscale, translating paper structures to micro origami. Our investigations extend to visualizing cellular division and solar cell development. Researchers see paper engineering as a metaphor for scientific principals; I see their inquiry as basis for artistic inspiration. In my studio I am a collaborator, explorer and inventor. I begin with a system of folding and at a particular moment the material takes over. Guided by wonder, my work is made because I cannot visualize its final realization; in this way I come to understanding through curiosity.

The root cause of Alzheimer’s disease is protein mis-folding. The modular arrangements in which protein strands are formed, break down and incorrectly fold. This causes a chain reaction of erroneous folding. 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. Expanding and contracting in response to the viewer’s physical participation, new questions are raised; how can this form generate movement? How can size relate to the body? What happens when molecular forms become life-size and inhale the surrounding space?

My drawings begin by asking indirect questions which yield no concrete answers. As with my three dimensional work, my focus is on the process rather than final product. I am fascinated with computer technology and its ability to mistranslate information. Like a game of “telephone”, multiple software programs fracture and compound text and image as they travel through different formats on the computer. Bearing little resemblance to their origin, the new information is rendered on a pen plotter creating a chaotic world rooted in happenstance. No longer legible, I see the drawings as blueprints for invisible cities, answers to questions that may unfold over time.

Matt Shlian’s Website