You can use the phrase “paper tiger” to describe someone or something that’s not as tough as it appears to be, but you could conjure up the same image just as easily with a different pair of words. For example, “cardboard tank” seems like it could serve the same linguistic purpose. So could “cardboard Gundam” or “cardboard M16,” for that matter.
But while those might not be as powerful as their original, non-cardboard forms, they are all incredibly awesome when made out of corrugated cardboard, as proven by the creations of artist Monami Ono, who makes all those and more out of cardboard boxes from Amazon.
The 23-year-old Ono is a recent graduate of Osaka University of the Arts. During her second year at the school, she decided to specialize in 3-D animation, but ran into a bit of a problem. “The shop fees for 3-D animation are expensive,” she recalls, meaning that she couldn’t experiment with wild abandon. Not sure how to get her creative juices flowing while worrying about materials costs, she noticed that she had an abundance of cardboard boxes from online retailer Amazon lying around. “I tried making something out of them, found out that cardboard is a surprisingly fun medium to work with, and from there I really started getting into creating with it!”
▼ Now that we’ve given you Ono’s profile, here’s her profile.
Ono says that she was already an anime fan before she started college, so it’s no surprise that during her junior year she opted to take a class taught by Toshio Okada, the fan-turned-pro known as the Otaking who was one of the driving forces behind the founding of animation studio Gainax, which would go on to craft such influential anime as Gunbuster, The Wings of Honneamise, and Evangelion. During one of Okada’s lectures the topic turned to tanks, and the professor remarked that if the vehicles lose just one tread, they become unable to move.
This struck a chord with Ono, who remembers suddenly realizing that “Tanks are weak! And also kind of cute!”
In describing her infatuation with tanks, Ono repeatedly uses the term moe, a Japanese term that combines an attraction to something cute with the protectiveness towards something weak. With her moe center thoroughly tickled, Ono set out to build a plastic model of one.
But while she had the artistic and motor skills to finish the kit, she found the experience left her feeling somewhat empty. Working with pre-molded plastic pieces meant she couldn’t shape them to her liking, and the end result looked more scary than cute. “I thought it would be more interesting to make a tank out of cardboard, that you knew would get all soggy and weak if it became wet.”
Ono has since realized this artistic vision several times over, as you can see from the 1:20 scale tanks above. She then hit on the idea of other cardboard-based juxtapositions of strength and flimsiness, such as life-size rifle replicas.
Like with tanks, Ono finds herself drawn to the thin line that determines whether firearms are powerful weapons or functionless hunks of metal, in this case decided by if there’re any bullets left in the magazine or not.
▼ Even the trigger is crafted from cardboard.
Ono has recreated another Word War II relic with a model of the Mitsubishi Zero, identifiable by its intricate canopy frame.
Not all of Ono’s work is focused on the past, though. She’s also willing to indulge in a bit of sci-fi engineering, such as this cardboard version of the RX-78 Gundam.
▼ “Without fuel, he’s just a giant statue,” explains the artist.
Ono does all of her work with Amazon cardboard boxes, praising them for their uniform color. She’s also fond of their moderate thickness which allows them to hold the shapes she puts the pieces in, while not being so stiff that it’s tiring to work with. Her list of tools is similarly pedestrian, consisting of ordinary things you’re likely to have lying around the house such as scissors, a box cutter, a ruler, glue, and masking tape. She’s particularly satisfied with the way the cardboard’s edges become slightly rounded where it’s cut, further emphasizing the cute weakness that’s the underlying theme of her creations.
▼ Given that we’ve now seen cardboard tanks, guns, and Gundam, we’re a little surprised there’s no cardboard version of Mobile Suit Gundam’s RX-75-4 Guntank, but Ono has made this cool drill tank.
For 2015, Ono is throwing herself into her most ambitious project yet. She plans to spend the entire year putting together a human-sized cardboard android. The hands are already done, and she’s thinking of tackling either the head or feet next.
As playful as Ono’s inspirations may seem, there’re also some deep undertones to them she hopes come across.
“In contemporary culture, we buy and use the things we want. It’s become a matter of choice to just choose something from the options you’re presented with…All of the choices are laid out on a platter in our world, but I think that’s strange.”
“If you set your mind to it, you’d be surprised what you can make, and if you make something yourself, your fondness for it will be greater than for something you bought…With cardboard, even if you don’t have much money, storage space, or equipment, you can make something, and I think it’s a good first step to get a little bit away from the current culture.”
If you’re inspired by Ono’s words, but not quite sure where to start, she’ll be holding two cardboard tank-building workshops in February, with all materials provided. Ono describes the level of difficulty as being about the same as an elementary school art project, meaning just about anyone should be able to enjoy it. So, if like us, you find yourself with more Amazon boxes than you know what to do with, sign up today.
Tank to be made: German Jagdtiger or German Tiger
Dates: 2-15, 2-22
Address: Tokyo-to, Taito-ku, Moto Asakusa 1-15-9, Wanisuta
Time: 1 p.m.-4 p.m.
Cost: 7,500 yen (US $64)