Benja Harney, leading paper engineer and creative thinker, is about to unleash his biggest installation yet. His spring-inspired creation will take over the central dome of the Queen Victoria Building in September for Art & About Sydney. Picture giant flowers, butterflies and buzzing bees big enough to make you feel like Alice in Wonderland.
How long have you been working on your QVB installation and where did the inspiration come from?
We have been working on this job for a few months now. I’m really excited to see how the whole idea looks once it has been installed. The brief was “florals” so we went down the road of massive sprays of flowers and foliage. As a self-confessed perfectionist, it can be hard to hand over production to another team – I’m really happy with what they have delivered. Working at this massive scale poses a whole unique set of design challenges. I’m very proud that our team’s collaborative efforts will be on display in such an iconic location as the QVB. I hope people enjoy what we came up with!
What was the first paper sculpture you ever made?
I used to make paper stuff as a kid all the time, I think that’s where my love for paper was born. In terms of my career as a paper engineer, I started with a series of 10 small pop-up books about Art Nouveau that was a project for design school back in 2004. I was hooked from then on!
How did you learn to make paper sculptures?
I’m self-taught. As fate would have it, I had a rudimentary class in paper construction at TAFE as part of my design course. After that I was on my own really. There was no one here in Australia that I could consult with for guidance or techniques. It has been a long process of experimentation but I love the technical challenge of working with paper; it’s like solving a set of design problems.
What are the essential tools for the creation of a sculpture?
Well there are the tangible things like scalpel, glue, cutting mat etc., but the most important elements are things like creativity, focus and patience.
Do you have a favourite paper?
Japanese paper is by far the best in the world. There is something about crispness of the fold it gives you.
Do you ever get the urge to crumple something up and start again?
I do that all the time! Often you just have to try something to see if it works. From time to time it doesn’t. I usually crumple if I’m frustrated with a design.
You’ve worked on some amazing projects with high profile companies, what has been your most challenging project?
Each new project presents a new challenge. I think the most challenging jobs are one’s that take a sustained focus over a long period of time. I designed a pop-up book for Kylie Minogue last year. Working for over a month with 18 hour days was a killer but I thrive working under pressure; I think that is when true creativity and innate style shines through. I’m very proud of what the whole team delivered. Far and away the most rewarding aspect of my creative journey so far has been all the brilliant people I have been able to collaborate with.
Do you have personal projects going on at the side?
Always. I think as a creative it is essential to strive and make work outside of commercial practice. It personally keeps me energised and fulfilled. I have a solo exhibition of some sculptures and artworks that will be opened in November at NG Art Gallery in Chippendale. It will be my second solo show and a completely different approach to my last one. I’m really excited with how it’s going to turn out!
Who and what are your inspirations?
Friends, conversation, history, architecture, the street. I always keep my eyes and ears open; you never know when an idea will present itself. My favourite designer is Ettore Sottsass.
How far can your paper aeroplanes fly?
We should have a contest! The inaugural “Yen Mag Paper Plane Challenge.”
How do you deal with all the paper cuts?