New artist statement / teaching philosophy (if you like reading those sorts of things) now posted at http://www.mattshlian.com/statement.html
or just keep reading below...
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.
MIT professor, Victor Weisskopf, wrote in an essay entitled Teaching Science that, "In science we must always begin by asking questions, not giving answers. In this way we contribute to the joy of insight. For science is the opposite of knowledge. Science is curiosity."
I teach my students that curiosity is the root of art making practice, and the investigations they undertake in their formative studies while learning basic principals of art and design can be pursued across media and disciplines. The key to making their ideas accessible and successful is through rigorous research, design, execution and critique. I show students how limitations are necessary in producing artwork and force them to work within boundaries. In three-dimensional design we begin our year exploring common materials and discovering inherent properties therein. How can they transform the material, creating a dialogue with it rather than imposing a form upon it? They reflect and respond in written form and through critique become active participants in their learning. Establishing an atmosphere where questions are encouraged and collaboration is paramount, I find remarkable results occur when different approaches are allowed to collide. My students become problem solvers as they work through projects, realizing that the process is just as important as the final product.