Its main function is as a container for things we actually care about. But cardboard is also an under-appreciated art material, more often on display in elementary art classes than professional galleries. Japanese artist Monami Ohno has been helping bring the humble packaging material a bit more respect, creating insanely intricate and sometimes rather large sculptures out of just cardboard and adhesive for the past six and a half years. Her work includes recognizable products like a beer can, coffee cup, a cookie, and more obscure characters from her favorite Tokusatsu films.
Cardboard may seem easy to manipulate but Ohno says otherwise. “Cardboard is hard to use, but it is soft and easy to process,” she tell Creators. Spheres and bodies are among the most difficult shapes to create, so she often sticks to the rigid and mechanical forms of machines. She hasn’t shied away from creatures like Godzilla and Bowser, but she’s proudest of her film-inspired vehicles. “My favorites are the Millennium Falcon and the DeLorean,” Ohno says. “I am a fan of movies.”
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Ohno began sculpting with cardboard over six years ago when she used the material in a stop-motion short film featuring a little blue dude baking pizza on the back of his motorcycle. It’s an unusual clip and it’s not always clear what’s going on, but the carefully designed cardboard pizza machine with gears and other moving parts is impressive in its own right.
Since then Ohno’s pieces have only gotten more elaborate. She’s created miniature cityscapes, wearable sneakers, a full-scale saxophone, R2D2, a green sea turtle, an assault rifle, a wearable Ghostbusters backpack, and a small army of cardboard tanks. The variety of pieces is admirable but she admits she makes many mistakes and has used more boxes than she can remember.
Ohno has held exhibitions in Japan, where she puts a handful of her favorite pieces on display. She sells her sculptures to companies and fans in the public but says most of the time she’s creating for her own enjoyment. “Most of the time there are no clients,” she says. “So, I make something I like and show it as a performance.”
The artist says, “Cardboard will always have a special place in my heart, going back to childhood when there were few toys as inspiring as a freshly emptied cardboard box. With cardboard, we could create anything and pretend to be anyone, from a king of a castle to an astronaut in spaceship. The only limit is our own imagination.”
See more of Monami Ohno’s work on her Instagram.