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Kind Cuts: Kelli Anderson’s Paperworks

Written by in Books, Design, Inspire


Author, Designer, Artist Kelli Anderson
Paper Cuts, Pop-Up Books, Counterfeits & Other Paper Pleasures

Designer Kelli Anderson wants people to care about science, art, social justice, sustainability, and—her favorite media—paper. She wants her viewers to wake up to the magic before them, and she’s willing to startle them out of complacency.

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Her latest publishing project with Chronicle Books, This Book Is a Planetarium (set to be published November 2016), delivers on its promise. The pop-up book is, in fact, a planetarium—made out of workaday paper. To achieve the impressive projection of constellations (along with a musical instrument, geometric drawing generator, infinite calendar, message decoder, and speaker that amplifies sound), Anderson sent 25 prototypes to the manufacturer until she perfected the contraptions. For the past few years, she has bought every pop-up book she can find.

To Anderson, the paper cuts and years of effort are worth it. “It makes me feel like there’s possibility hiding in plain view—everywhere,” Anderson says. “If I can package up that feeling, put it in someone else’s hand, and see what they do with or get out of it, it’s a project with an enduring life.”

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Growing up in New Orleans, Kelli Anderson tried to dual major in physics and fine arts at the University of Louisiana. This began a lifelong mission to merge the sciences with the arts. After moving to Brooklyn to study at the Pratt Institute, she began making hopeful propaganda. Disappointed with the W. Bush administration, she and friends imagined a “utopian future,” then created it by designing, printing and distributing a half a million counterfeit copies of the New York Times. Instead of violence and mayhem, headlines trumpeted bikes lanes in New York City and high-speed connectivity in Appalachia.

The experience convinced Anderson that paper still made a major impact. “It wouldn’t have the same impact were it not on paper,” she says. “Touching it made it more real. The smell of the ink and the physicality of the sheet made it believable.” Many readers thought they were holding a real NYT.

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Her conversion from fine arts to design was complete. “With art, it is about an occasion: You go to a museum, a play, a performance. Graphic design is woven into life where it can suddenly surprise you. It can be stealthy. It can be populist. It can speak the everyday language of life.”

Anderson works to subvert the material of everyday life in order to provide a sense of amazement. In a self-published book, The Book Is a Camera, she examines photography. She travels from the beginning of the photographic history to look at the accordion camera. It is collapsible and air-tight—perfect for a pop-up. The camera is functional, too: it can capture real images that you can develop in a darkroom.

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“People take paper for granted,” she says, associating it with the mundane or the unwanted, like bills and junk mail . “It can become invisible. But it can something much more. It can be aerodynamic and audible! It can become a mask or a  fortune teller.” She regards paper as a media to connect us back to the physical world, an analog magic carpet that we can twist, cut, shape, and blend to connect us to concepts and tangible experiences. She calls paper the
superpower” of design:  “I can take this thing people don’t think, bend it a certain way, and, suddenly, it becomes something that delights us.  Paper amplifies my power as a designer.”

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    Matt Porter said:

    Kelli Anderson reminds us of the tactile, tangible, authentic power of the printed thing. Keep on using environmentally responsible, eco-friendly, beautiful, toothy paper!