Matt Shlian
“Do what you love and fuck the rest.”

Paper scissors rock.

Always paper.

Good choice. Your introduction to paper art?

I began as an undergrad: 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 scale pop up spreads.  I was making these 4 foot v-folds or strut fold pieces.  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.  I loved the immediacy of paper as a medium.  I also loved the geometry. 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.  It took off from there.

A day in the studio.

Everyday is pretty varied.  Yesterday I had a meeting with a group that designs plane wings for NASA.  Earlier in the week I was working on new pieces for Ghostly International, two solo shows and we just had or first baby here.  Things are pretty busy but good.

What are you curious about?

I am curious about everything.  I like the idea that a unique approach can unlock a mundane technology or technique.

3D printing.

Are they scanning in right hands and mirroring them to make prosthetic lefts? I think that’s amazing.

And printing skulls (for medical purposes, althought I’m sure there’s an Etsy market for 3D printed skulls). Also printing tissue cells. How far are we from printing heart transplants? Speaking of hearts, “Unlean against our hearts” was the title of a kinetic paper sculpture you installed at a hospital in Ann Arbor.

It was a title taken from a poem by Kay Ryan. 


If it please God,  
let less happen.  
Even out Earth’s  
rondure, flatten  
Eiger, blanden
the Grand Canyon.
Make valleys
slightly higher,  
widen fissures  
to arable land,  
remand your
terrible glaciers  
and silence
their calving,  
halving or doubling
all geographical features  
toward the mean.
Unlean against our hearts.  
Withdraw your grandeur  
from these parts.

It made sense to use it for the piece in the children’s hospital. I was there fixing the piece and a father of a 3 year old in treatment told me it was his daughters favorite piece of art there and that when they go for walks they love to watch it move.  I said thanks, and told him I made it. He freaked out and hugged me. I didn’t cry then, but when I think about this piece giving someone a sense of peace and calm in a situation like that I love being an artist.

Beautiful. These are the moments when you realize that art is not just something that sits in the gallery window. These kinds of interactions change lives, spark hearts, and give people hope.

You’ve collaborated with Ghostly International._

I met Sam from Ghostly at a TED talk a few years ago.  We both presented our work and met up afterwards.  We saw a lot of similarities in our worlds and started making things together.  We’ve been making things since 2011 and they are an incredibly supportive team to work alongside. 

Your work is in their online gallery, yes?

Yeah, you can find my work along with Mike Cina and Andy Gilmore… I’m in good company. I’m working on follow up to my first series with them (the process series). The first series came so quickly and this one has taken a few years and multiple iterations. I’m getting closer and hopefully they will be ready by the Fall, but don’t hold me to that.

Something that you come back to time and time again as a source of inspiration.

I find inspiration in just about everything; Solar cell design, protein misfolding, Arabic tile patterning, systematic drawing, architecture, biomimetics, music etc.  I have a unique way of misunderstanding the world that helps me see things easily overlooked. 

What kind of books are on your bedstand?

I’m reading the Walking Dead Compendium, a book on Feynman, and The Brightest Thing in the World.

Okay, knowing what you know now, what advice would your Future Self give your Past Self?

Trust your instincts.
Consider the source when getting advice.
Do what you love and fuck the rest. •