Ara 314 (Such a Thirst I Had)
Dimensions: 60 x 60 x 5″
Media: iridescent paper
In Matthew Shlian’s Ara 314 (Such a Thirst I Had), Shlian upends traditional associations with paper by rendering an otherwise static medium into something dynamic, both through his characteristic use of folds and in the natural subject he has chosen to represent. The work similarly manipulates the tension between science and art; flowers are thought to be delicate and the subject of artistic concern, whereas the symmetrical patterning and almost fractal-like appearance of the work interjects a definitive element of mathematical precision not captured in traditional paintings and still lives. Ara 314 (Such a Thirst I Had) retains a sense of ambiguity, where the cool color palette ensures that the work cannot immediately be classified as flowers, but instead may be a floral representation of water or a rippling surface.
Matthew Shlian’s work is derived from the intersectionality between art and science, where Shlian uses engineering skills and the aid of scientists at the University of Michigan to create intricate, geometric paper structures. While the process of executing each work is contingent upon precise measurements and a definitive degree of planning, Shlian describes that often, his final products are conceived from flaws that occur as the work is coming together. “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.” Shlian engages with paper in a way that imbues movement into a material often associated with two dimensionality; the finished products are kinetic both for their visual dynamics and in the way the folds physically project from the background. Shlian works in a variety of colors, but often defaults to white—where the added flatness of the color encourages viewers to examine the work more closely and establish their own readings of the work’s depth.
by Keira Seidenberg