Matthew Shlian

A complete retrospective of the paper engineer and artist, documenting a decade of unrivalled and unexpected creativity

  • Funding ended
  • 403 backers
  • £38,480.94 of £20,000.00 pledged
Funded 192%
  • Funding ended
  • 403 backers
  • £38,480.94 of £20,000.00 pledged
Funded 192%


Since its invention in around 100 BC, paper has become a cornerstone of civilization, its uses multifarious, its materiality reassuring, its essence a key component of the human experience. And yet, with the proliferation of digital culture and rising concern for our forests, paper and the contents it often contains appear to be under threat, rather than celebrated for their permanence in a time when information is ephemeral – swiped screen – and true knowledge seeks to find new roots.

Paper is more precious, more meaningful and more connected to human experience than it ever has been. Artist Matthew Shlian has always recognized paper’s significance as a medium and message, as a material for experimentation and understanding. In his hands, engineering, science, geometry are made form in paper. Folded, tessellated, compressed, extrapolated – two-dimensional paper becomes three-dimensional sculpture in beautiful and unexpected ways.

Unfolding is the first monograph of Shlian’s genius, compiling his most important work over the past decade. A journey into the new possibilities of folding technology, the intricate complexities of Islamic patterns, and the sheer potential offered by a sheet of white paper, Unfolding is celebration of a humble material, on the edge of its existence, elevated to timeless form and possibility.


Johanne Lian Olsen


Stuart Kestenbaum
Lawrence Weschler
Eric Broug


256 x 256 mm
256 pages
Hardcover with flush trim



• Your name in the book
• Exclusive updates

Collector’s Edition + 7″ Vinyl

• Collector’s Edition book
• Limited 7” vinyl
• Signed by the author
• Your name in the book
• Exclusive updates

Collector’s Edition + Print

• Collector’s Edition book
• Limited 9” x 9” print
• Signed copy of book
• Your name in the book
• Exclusive updates

Book Early Bird

• Your name in the book
• Exclusive updates

The Works: Collector’s Edition + 3D Artwork + Print + 7″ Vinyl

• Collector’s Edition book
• Signed Ara 440 3D artwork
• Limited 7″ vinyl
• Limited 9” x 9” print
• Your name in book

Funding successful. This project closed on Thursday, October 31 2019 8:00 pm UTC +00:00.

All pledges will be refunded in full if the funding goal is not met within the allotted time.

The book

In keeping with the geometric underpinning of Shlian’s work, the dimensions of the book are ‘16 cubed’: 16cm squared by 16cm squared by 16 signatures of 16 pages. Printed in full colour on two paper stocks, the book features an interview between Stuart Kestenbaum and the artist, and essays by acclaimed writer Lawrence Weschler and Islamic design scholar Eric Broug. At the heart of the book is a complete overview of Shlian’s oeuvre over the past ten years, including small- and large-scale works, collaborations with scientific researchers and scientists, three-dimension reliefs and sculpture – all in paper.

The book is bound in a hard case, with the top and bottom edges cut flush to the page edge, exposing the board and serving as a tactile reminder of Shlian’s fascination with the mechanical properties of paper.

It is never just about the paper. It is about light, and form, and structure. All art embeds thought in material, but first you have to investigate the material. The great thing about paper as a material for that kind of inquiry is that it is not precious – not yet.

Matthew Shlian

Collector’s edition with 7″ vinyl

Shlian has collaborated with Detroit-based independent music label Ghostly International since 2011, when he produced the ‘Process’ series, which fused geometric form and the inspiration of electronic music. ‘Tessellation’, his second collaboration with the studio, visually explored the nature of improvisation.

For this limited volume edition, celebrated EDM artists Shigeto and DABRYE will produce a 7-inch vinyl that celebrates Shlian’s unique ability to capture the underlying structures of their music in geometric form. Bundled in a beautiful package featuring a piece from Shlian’s ‘Ara’ series, the vinyl edition is strictly limited to 250 copies.

As an artist, Matthew Shlian occupies a unique space that connects art and science, the tactile world and pure abstraction, mathematics and wonder.

Diana Gaston, Director, Tamarind Institute

Signed print

Shlian has created a print specifically for the release of Unfolding. The piece is a development of his ‘Ara’ series, a study of forms derived from Islamic tile and tessellating patterns and close examination of structures that exist on the nano-scale. This work with scientists led to the exploration and discovery of new forms.

‘In the lab we studied how quasi-crystals and proteins form,’ Shlian says, ‘the crystalline shapes that emerge during self-assembly simulations mirror Murquarnas patterns found in the palaces of Iran 1000 years ago. These four- and six-sided arrays pose fundamental new questions of structure: How did these geometric wonders emerge using minimal tools?  How can we create new patterns that simultaneously honor tradition and look to the future of art and design?’

The signed graphite print measures 9″ x 9″ (22.5 cm x 22.5 cm) and is drawn via pen plotter directly on heavyweight (179 gsm) archival cotton drawing paper and presented in a velum envelope.

Exclusive 3D artwork

Limited to an edition of 100 created specifically for the release of Unfolding, Shlian has created Ara 440, one of his signature three-dimensional artworks. ‘My work is about light and shadow, form and repetition. I rely on the subtle gradations of tone that are cast as shadows upon the white paper to define and illuminate the dimensionality of space.’

Supporters lucky to acquire the piece will be able to experience the subtlety and delicacy with which Shlian achieves experiments with paper and form, with pattern and science. ‘Hundreds of years ago artisans carved stone and hand-cut tiles armed only with a compass, straight-edge and basic tools,’ Shlian writes. ‘My practice moves fluidly from sketchbook to AutoCAD. Each piece leads to the next one, building on the previous in order to ask new questions of material expression.’

Ara 440 is composed of acid-free and archival 100lb text-weight stock (fox river coronado) on a 165lb cover backing sheet. The piece measures 12″ x 12″ x 1/4″ (30.5 cm x 30.5 cm x 0.6 cm). Signed and numbered by the artist.

With Matt Shlian, it’s never so much the folds he adds to paper, it’s the folds he adds to your brain.

Lawrence Weschler

Meet the author

Matthew Shlian is an artist, paper engineer and founder of the Initiative Artist Studio in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He holds an MFA from the Cranbrook Academy, located near Detroit, Michigan. His work extends from drawings to large-scale installations to collaborations with leading researchers and scientists. His work for the National Science Foundation explores paper-folding structures on the macro level translated to the nano-scale. His client list includes Apple, P&G, Facebook, Levi’s, Sesame Street and the Queen of Jordan.

A new Volume campaign is live!

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As we reach the final few hours of our successful funding campaign to create Matthew Shlian’s Unfolding, we wanted to extend our sincere thanks to you for your support. We will soon be embarking on a journey to collate and edit the many stunning art pieces that will form the book, a process you’ll see come together via these very updates over the coming months. Without your pledge, this book would not be about to become a reality.

As we gear up to get stuck into production and design, we wanted to make you aware that we’ve just launched a brand new book campaign on Volume today – New Psychedelia – a retrospective of the artist and album cover designer Leif Podhajský, featuring countless kaleidoscopic digital artworks as well as his cover creations for musicians such as Foals, Bonobo, Lykke Li and Young Magic. Jump in and take a look now to secure one of our rewards, ranging from discounted early-bird books to beautiful signed prints:

Visit New Psychedelia: Leif Podhajský→

We’ll be back with you soon to share behind-the-scenes progress on the creation of your forthcoming book, Unfolding.

Darren Wall





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