Anyone who's ever worked an office job knows that being tethered to your desk all day can get pretty boring. Between phone calls and emails, Ben Goraj from Dearborn Heights has a bit of downtime working as an office clerk at U-M Dearborn. Fortunately, he can spend it making "modular metal origami."
"My job, luckily, is really understanding and actually encouraging for me to keep myself occupied constructively," the 31-year-old says. "It's something quiet I can do — I can set it down. Other art, if you break your concentration, it can ruin the whole thing."
Goraj uses recycled cans found in campus recycling bins to cut and fold into repeating shapes, which he can interlock to form various geometric configurations. He says he also uses spare materials like paper, overhead transparencies, and other things left around the office in his origami as well.
For Goraj, the origami process is very meditative, a repetitive task that enables him to concentrate on other things. "It gives me a lot of time to focus. It's like active listening," he says. "If I'm sitting there listening to a podcast, it creates a precise sort of listening process. Rather than letting your mind drift, you kind of have to make sure your folds are straight and you're concentrating, and your mind's active the whole time. It's just a good practice to get into, I think."
Goraj says different modular folds will yield different shapes, which is also dependent on the flexibility of the medium. "My only limitation on the size of the pieces I can make now is dependent on the volumes of the cans," he says, with his current stock yielding baseball and softball-sized shapes. "If I could get the raw stock before it goes to the can-forming, then I could just have clean sheets of unpressed graphics. I could probably make beachball-sized origami out of it."
Goraj and his brother Sam also make posters out of the paper bands that once adorned the wrappers for Phillies and Swishers blunts and cigars. "Back in the day, Phillies made 19 different flavors, and the color palette got pretty fancy," he says. "Whatever I can get my hands on, I end up processing it into something. I can't bring myself to dispose of all these colors. In this consumer-type society, for better or worse, people resonate with brands."
Goraj has also made his own fan posters out of the blunt wrappers for the hip-hop artists Quasimoto and MF Doom. "That's my dream, to hook up with them one day," he says. "The posters are perfect. They have a track together called 'America's Most Blunted' — it'd be a match made in heaven."
In addition to using recycled materials, Goraj also uses more traditional media like charcoal drawings and watercolors. But the origami is his favorite right now.
"I work with a medium until I am basically satisfied with the practice of it, then I try to move on and get my hands on as many things as possible," he says. "I wouldn't say I'm an expert at any one medium at all."
When energy-drink giant Red Bull put out a call for artists to submit art made out of its cans, Goraj realized it was right up his alley. "As a contestant, I felt so privileged to have something that was so in my zone," he tells us. "I knew what I was doing."
More than 300 artists submitted concepts, which has been whittled down to 30 pieces that will be on display in November at Chicago's Millennium Park. A panel of judges will whittle the competition down to the top three on Nov. 7, and a "people's choice" winner will be announced Nov. 16.
"I think everybody's an artist at heart," Goraj says. "You just need to have the confidence. Art is the sort of thing where an 'expert' class isn't necessarily authoritative. Every single day, I involve myself in something creative. Sometimes it just takes a little bit of encouragement from people."
Goraj's art will be featured in the Red Bull Art of Can competition in from Nov. 7 to Nov. 16 at the Chase Promenade South in Millennium Park in Chicago. The exposition will be open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. from Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. More information is available at redbullartofcan.com. The exhibition is free and open to the public. You can see more of Goraj's art at gorayproductions.com.