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A Conversation With Sandrine Sheon

Sandrine Sheon's greeting cards say "wish you were here" in an altogether original manner. A graphic designer and artist currently living on the North Side, Sheon works in "paper engineering," making mechanical cards as well as paper toy lobsters...

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How did you get involved in paper engineering?

I guess it comes from my art background; I studied history and languages as an undergraduate, and then went into art, and at that point I was making all these contraption boxes -- [Joseph] Cornellian pieces where you put something into a space, and move a handle or something and it would appear somewhere else. I was also making mechanical toys -- much simpler kinds of things, very much in the spirit of one-liner jokes. In this case they were cotter pin toys -- like the two butchers, or the two chickens pecking -- but I was making them about a fence that couldn't reach a wall, that sort of thing. So, I guess it comes from an interest in animated objects.

 

Are the World Upside Down cards and kits art? Are they commerce?

In a way, it's art masquerading as business. It's definitely the get-rich-slow scenario! I haven't had an exhibit of these [cards and toys], but that's not to say I won't -- but my efforts have been more to selling rather than exhibiting.

 

[At one point] I made a lot of installation art and eventually found myself working in graphic design. Design, art, it's all the same thing to me because I'm applying my problem-solving mind. I'd seen toys like this, I'd always been interested in quirky books -- pop-up books, how-to-make books -- and I just started making a lot of toys. I guess [the company] is from a sort of desire to do everything, to create an identity -- World Upside Down -- to have that be very open-ended.

 

You're working currently on a project at the Mattress Factory?

I [proposed] a book to them -- a paper architecture book that would include most of the permanent exhibits [at the Mattress Factory]. I'm recreating the spaces, but in paper, so it's very much like a kit project. You learn about the artists -- you make a tiny little artists' catalog out of paper -- and then you build the actual rooms. It seemed like a perfect project for them because they're so hands-on. With some of the installations, you're definitely getting a better understanding of the artist's process this way, because you're kind of re-building it yourself.

 

Paper architecture, graphic design -- it seems a long way from erotica ...

Well, I also had an interest in silhouettes, kind of like the silhouettes made in the 19th century, but in my case I was doing ones that were -- sort of -- homoerotic. And on first glance you wouldn't see anything, but if you looked closer you'd see a penis outline or something. It's a desire to make an absurd object, but also, there's a real intimacy to making these things. The parts that really energize me a lot are the illustrative aspects -- finding a way to draw the pubic hair, for example. There's an intimacy that frees your mind to think about all kinds of other things. These [images] are things that everybody has thought about; I don't think there's anything really controversial about them. What's funny about them and controversial is that they're made of paper. They're reifying fantasies that we have, or situations that we may find ourselves in.

 

Even these works -- like the Mr. and Ms. Masturbation kits -- they're "naughty," but not obscene.

It's disarming. A lot of people react to these things like, "That's so funny, it's a great idea" -- you're just bringing out what they've always wanted to see. In a way, they're happy these things exist. A lot of the reaction I get from the sort of hardcore adult stores, where they sell dildos and videos, where you think this would sort of work -- it doesn't, because it's not raunchy enough.

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