Matthew Shlian is an artist and designer working in paper. He uses the traditions of origami, kirigami, and paper engineering to transform flat materials into 3D sculptures and he applies his experience in collaborative research with scientists at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. 

Origami is widely known as the art of paper folding, and kirigami extends it by integrating paper cutting, which can result in increasing a material’s flexibility and functionality. Shlian collaborates with scientists who are applying kirigami techniques to the development of innovative designs that would enable solar cells to move and track the sun. 

Shlian’s work with scientists has also influenced his art. Chirality, the title of his exhibition at the National Academy of Sciences, refers to a property of asymmetry important in several branches of mathematics and science including genetics and biochemistry. It describes something that is not superimposable onto its mirror image; human hands are one of the most universally recognizable examples of this phenomenon. Shlian uses chiral patterns in many of his paper sculptures. 

Shlian’s collaborations have disabused him of his assumption that scientists are primarily concerned with learning an established body of knowledge. “You find it’s not really like that with this cutting-edge work,” he says. “Scientists are just as curious as artists are; they’re just as excitable as we are about new things.” 

Chirality was on exhibit from August 15, 2016 through January 16, 2017, at the National Academy of Sciences, 2101 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC. 

Visit Matt Shlian’s website here:

—Alana Quinn

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Shlian, Matthew. “Chirality.” Issues in Science and Technology 33, no. 1 (Fall 2016).

Vol. XXXIII, No. 1, Fall 2016