Benja Harney: Paper Engineer: Sydney

“People have the power” Patti Smith
Name: Benja Harney
Occupation: Paper Engineer
Hometown: Sydney
Currently residing: Sydney

Benja Harney is a self-taught Paper Engineer living in Sydney. 10 years into his career and he is at the top of his game. Internationally acclaimed and recognised, he is an influencer of his profession.

Benja started his company, PAPERFORM in 2004 and has since worked with clients Samsung, Google, Hermes, Mastercard and Telstra.

Like anyone working for themselves, it wasn’t always easy. He struggled on what he wanted to do after school. He went to London for 2 years and was influenced by his friends and time there that lead him to the point of his paper engineering. Benja didn’t know it was a job, he was playing around with idea and was excited about the concept that this profession was actually possible. He noticed a rise in interest in paper formatting and enjoyed the medium and challenges it presented. Today, he is at the top of his game. AR spent the day with Benja…

“Paper is such a humble medium to work with. It inspires and challenges me every time I sit down at my cutting mat.”
When I was a child I wanted to be… a lawyer for some reason. I think I worked out it was what my parents wanted to hear.
The one thing I do every day… is whistle. For some reason there is always a song playing in my head when I wake up so Im usually whistling in the morning before I head out the door.
The studies I took to get where I am… It took me a while to get going after high school – I needed to get out and experience the world before I could make a decision so I moved myself off to London at 20. When I returned to Sydney after three years I studied graphic design at Enmore TAFE. It was there that I had that fateful class in paper construction and the course of my life changed.
I’m inspired by… colour, shape, geometry, repetition and the general business of making things. I love the urban landscape and often if I’m looking for a design solution, inspiration usually strikes as I’m travelling through the city.
My influences are… my friends.
People I admire… Patti Smith, Tokujin Yoshioka, Ettore Sottsass, David Attenborough… the list goes on!
I’m currently listening to… the soundtrack that accompanies the brand new exhibition Express Yourself: Romance Was Born For Kids currently on at the NGV. I was down there installing a paper foliage canopy I designed for Anna and Luke in the ‘Bush Magic’ room and the songs got stuck in my head so I asked for a copy. Our mate Jonny Seymour rejigged some of Romance’s favourite songs into these kind of electronic lullaby soundscapes. It’s totally epic!
The tools I can’t live without are… my brain, my hands and my scalpel! All are necessities for the creative process.
The obstacles that have come my way… Being a freelance creative can be a challenge. You invest a lot of personal time and thought into each project. I’m a bit of perfectionist about my work so I always want to see it shown off to its best possibility. The challenge come when things that you’ve designed goes out of your hands. It can sometimes be hard to get the end result finished off to an exacting standard – the finish is crucial in my opinion.
If I could change anything… I would have a big mop of hair on my head!
The internet has/hasn’t influenced my career… To be honest, I think the internet was one of the defining factors in kickstarting my career. When I first began to create with paper back in 2004 no one else was really doing this kind of thing – you could probably count on two hands the number of people around the world who were pioneering the modern possibilities of paper within this new ‘tangle’ design language. I was lucky to be at the right place at the right time doing something that I loved and the internet got my work out there for people to see.
My favourite place in the world… Bronte Beach swimming pool – there is something about that spot that soothes my mind. I’m pretty much down there every Sunday, rain, hail or shine. My second favourite place is Tokyo. I just can’t get enough of that crazy, elegant city!
I would like to travel… into space. I’m obsessed with jets and space craft. It’s a pretty dangerous mission, but I would love to see the curvature of the earth.
The highlights over the past 12 months have been… We’ve had another successful year and have collaborated with some pretty big clients but to be honest my biggest highlight this year has been finally getting my tax sorted out! It’s that dirty secret that no one talks about and it took me months, but I finally got there!
Advice I have to share for those who want to get into this profession… Nothing good came easy. I think to some degree we make our own luck so make the most of every opportunity and be prepared to put in the hard yards.
The latest project I’m working on… Every day is different in the Paperform studio and we usually have lots of projects on the go at any one time. Today we are making huge 2 meter high typography for an upcoming photo shoot!
Photographer: Katie Kaars
Contributor: Michelle Owen