A paper sculpture made out of a paper mesh created from a method called kirigami.
Art Play/Games

Finding joy through play

What signals us to know that we’re allowed to play? As adults, we’re often conditioned out of the instincts we had as children to play for play’s sake. In order to enhance the joy in my life, I dedicated my thesis to creating a playful practice. ‘Carry lightly’ is a kirigami paper sculpture that is the product of this practice.


Sarah Elix


Adaora Udoji


Silvia Federici defines joy, not as complacent happiness, but a feeling of our power and capacity growing. To feel joy is not merely a pleasantry, but a deep source of human strength. Joy exists in our physical environments and surroundings all the time, but sometimes in order to tap into joy we must cultivate it, design it, and find our way to play with it. ‘Carry lightly’ is a kirigami paper sculpture, and is part of my playful practice. Paper possesses magical yet mechanical properties, and allows us to create “auxetics,” or structures that exhibit an unexpected behavior when they are subjected to stresses and strains. I engaged with the art of kirigami, a paper practice that involves detailed cutting and folding to create large scale, flexible, fun structures. In finding a material that combines the joyful aesthetics of surprise, play, and magic, I created a physical, sculptural, interactive intervention that allows for multiple possibilities and futures. Bernie DeKoven tells us that “a playful path must ultimately take you beyond remembered things, beyond the familiar and the recognizable… it’s mystery, not mastery that brings people together.” In seeking the playful path, we come together out of a curiosity for the possibility for surprise and magic. 

A paper sculpture made out of a paper mesh created from a method called kirigami.


The genesis of this project was in researching joy and play. Bernie DeKoven’s, The Infinite Playground : A Player's Guide to Imagination and A playful path were strong influences in validating play as a means of self-actualization, and feelings of safety and happiness. He writes that with play, you need to give yourself both the opportunity and permission, which is what I gave myself throughout this thesis.  I moved into paper work as my means of play, inspired by artists like Li Hongbo and Matt Shlian. Kelli Anderson notes the magical qualities of paper as a material that can do mechanical work despite seemingly being meant to do nothing. Admiring paper’s ability to mimic mechanical motions and auxetic capabilities, I researched deployable structures from origami and kirigami. UK based artist Darryl Bedford created the tesselation pattern used in my thesis, which is based on the miura ori origami fold. Fascinated with scale and material, I explored using CNC milling machines with knife attachments to create the cut patterns, which allowed me to cut alternative materials, like adhesive backed vinyl  attached to paper. For the sake of speed in this iteration I used the Universal laser cutter to cut 6 pieces of 38x21.5 sheets of paper that I then glued together with PVA. In total there was about 8 hours of manual folding. Each modular sheet of paper took 35 minutes to cut in the laser cutter. 

Technical Details

Adobe Illustrator, Fusion 360, ShopBot CNC, Donek drag knife, laser cutter (Universal ILS12.75), Cameo Vinyl Cutter, Elephant Hide 110 gsm paper (from Talas, Brooklyn), String