When Shlian creates
his three-dimensional
paper folds, he explores
how naturally occurring
repeated patterns in nature
take on a ‘misfold.'

Matthew Shlian's
Beautiful Misfolds

by Paula Michele Bolado

ON JANUARY 26, Florida Gulf Coast University will be opening its doors to an exhibit featuring the creative and scientific artistic works of Matthew Shlian.

“This arts and science exhibition falls under the FGCU umbrella project called ‘Crossroads of Art and Science’ and Shlian is the third artist we’ve brought into the artist-in-residence program,” says John Loscuito, FGCU Gallery Director. “The goal is to connect the artist with FGCU students and faculty, and to explore scientific crossroads, applications, or inspirations in the arts.”

FGCU has frequently incorporated art and music with science through multimedia exhibitions that involve video and music. Shlian’s paper engineering artistry, where he creates folded paper sculptures based on shapes he finds in nature, is a good fit.

The exhibit will feature both large and small scale pieces which are framed and mounted. One of the most notable pieces is still being engineered as a part of a collaborative alternative printmaking class with Shlian working with students and FGCU professor Andy Owens. During the first part of class, Shlian explored a variety of techniques and approaches to printmaking. He encouraged students to think about paper in three-dimensions, which is what he does when he creates his folded sculptures. Though he typically uses a monochromatic palette, he had students generate different textures and color fields using the printmaking process called monotype. Monotype ink is applied to a plexiglass plate and then printed from that plate to get one unique print.

Students decided what types of colors or textures would be appropriate for transforming these monotype prints into three-dimensional forms. They chose a few different selections from the sixteen students making prints; then the entire class repeated the recipe of what was chosen. The final result was 66 sheets of large scale monotype prints. Each sheet allowed for over 50 cuts per sheet, which ultimately generated about 500 forms that could then be used for their collaborative project.

These are not arbitrary geometric forms, but are specific to Shlian’s design of the pattern he uses in a die-cut machine (a die-cut machine is a flatbed device with blades for scoring or cutting paper, which is hand-cranked through). After the machine cuts the paper the paper is folded by the human hand in a type of three-dimensional pyramid form. The form then can be arranged in different ways. “It’s kind of like how you see paver stones in the street; there’s infinite ways you can arrange them to create different patterns, like a herringbone pattern, or something like that,” Loscuito explains. “So, Shilan, along with the students, will arrange these pyramid forms in different ways to create variations on a surface. When you see his work you can see how one form repeats itself and the pattern becomes more complex.”

During Shlian’s next visit to FGCU, Owens’ class will use the die-cutter to cut these monoprints up into little geometric shapes that will be folded into pyramid-like forms. Then hundreds of these forms will be arranged and assembled. Shlian and students will glue and arrange them in a unique geometric configuration on a 4 ft x 8 ft sheetboard, all the while applying the protein misfold technique.

What is the protein misfold technique and how do you explain the artistic and scientific process of Matt Shlian to someone who is not a scientist?

According to Loscuito, “Matt talks a lot about applied physical sciences in his work; he talks about flexible solar cells, filtration systems, and protein misfolds and how all his paper folding has been picked up by scientists, primarily at the University of Michigan, where he’s working, and there is a relationship to sacred geometry and how religion and this idea of this divine, this kind of ideal or unifying theory that connects spiritual beliefs to observations that we have in the world around us. This has been going on for thousands of years — observing geometric forms — and I think that his work points to that as well.”

What these beautiful aesthetic forms Shlian creates also point to is this “eternal struggle or eternal fascination with geometry and its application on the macro and microscale,” says Loscuito. In other words, if you think about how bees create honeycombs, or hexagons, we see the mathematical equation of repeating forms.

He continues, “This is everywhere; how nature creates these repeating forms, and Matt points out that protein misfolds are when proteins misalign in the way they are supposed to be folding in some kind of order, but they stop, or they misfold — and protein misfolds are what leads to Alzheimer’s disease or cystic fibrosis.” Proteins are molecules that must keep a specific three-dimensional form to function properly. Protein misfolds in our body duplicate themselves. When they stop duplicating correctly, variations occur, and these variations can lead to disease. So, when Shlian creates his three-dimensional paper folds, he explores how naturally occurring repeated patterns in nature take on a ‘misfold,’ which eventually creates a whole new pattern. “He creates the appearance of chaos when those patterns aren’t repeating orderly anymore,” he explains. If there was a protein misfold (a twist or variation) in the hexagons of the bee honeycombs the hexagon pattern would become altered and soon spread out into variations that would end up looking like beautiful chaos.

The beautiful chaos of Shlian’s work and the results of the collaboration with Andy Owen’s class will be displayed on the exhibit’s opening night, January 26. There will be a public lecture at 6pm, followed by a reception and the exhibition from 6:30-8pm.

‘Matthew Shlian: Telemetry Crossroads of Art & Science’ will be on view January 26-March 2 in the Florida Gulf Coast University Main Gallery. FGCU’s Art Complex is located in the Art Complex at 10501 FGCU Blvd. S. in Fort Myers. The gallery is open Monday-Friday 10am-4pm & Thursday until 7pm. For information, call 590-7199.

Shlian’s work is also on view, January 12-February 23 as part of the Art & Design exhibition at Thomas Riley Studio, located at 26 10th St. in Naples. Call 529-2633 for information. •

January-February 2017