23 No. 8
publication of the International Sculpture Center
Sculpture: Ars Ex Machina
William V. Ganis
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Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Inverted Collar and Tie,
1994. Steel, polymer concrete, fiber-reinforced plastic, and polyester
gel-coat paint, 11.9 x 8.5 x 3.9 meters. Work fabricated with CNC
technology by William Kreysler and Associates, Petaluma, CA, following
a scanned maquette. Photo: attilio maranzano
the mid-19th century, Oliver Wendell Holmes hailed the photographic, dual-image
stereograph, a term he coined, as mankinds greatest
achievement because its three-dimensional illusion allowed form
henceforth divorced from matter.1 Since that time, form has repeatedly
asserted its independence from matter in myriad photographic and cinematic
inventions. Today, however, the substance of the stereo is
returned from the illusionistic, virtual world. In a truly transcendent
moment, many sculptors are using new technologies (including some dubbed
stereolithography) to realize forms created in computer environments.
stereolithography is an ontological breakthroughuntil recently,
the virtual world has remained separated from actual space by the computer
monitors proscenium arch. Digital sculptors use virtual space as
a creative locus but realize their works in physical space. These sculptors
accomplish their pieces through 3D modeling software, rapid prototyping
(RP), and other machines that are becoming standard equipment in engineering
and industrial design laboratories. The RP machine is a three-dimensional
printer that allows an object that exists only in the virtual
realm to become physical. This ontological shift is profound, since these
RP objects of resin, polyester, or other materials are crossovers from
another plane of existencethey are paradoxes of a virtuality that,
up until this point, has been a one-way looking glass.
allows new forms to be modeled in virtual environments, including intricate
works such as Kenneth Snelsons Atom I (2003) or Keith Browns
Shoal (2003), which are reminiscent of the visually complex 17th-century
ivories and contrefaitkugel that demonstrated their carvers virtuosity.
These contemporary works are impossible to sculpt with the human hand
and show the new sculptural possibilities brought by digital technology.
In addition to new forms, RP may redefine the function and reception of
sculpture in arts institutions. Digital sculptors work in a medium of
repetition with, arguably, no original object and infinite reproducibility.
In their raw states, RP sculptures seem to deny the sculpted materials
aura of authenticity (as posited by Walter Benjamin), especially as the
electronic data used to make these works can be shared instantly across
the globe and, theoretically, reproduced by anyone. These works suggest
a conceptual primacy that resides in their digital coding.
They may subvert the normal arts infrastructure, since they are not subject
to shipping costs or customs duties, transcend international boundaries,
and (in small-scale machines) cost only a few dollars worth of material.
Higham, ADA, 2003. Laser-sintered rapid prototyped in polycarbonate
RP exhibitions are symptomatic of technological globalization and the
sincere desire of technology-oriented arts organizations to share information,
techniques, and ultimately, artworks. Groups such as Manchester-based
Fine Art Sculptors and Technology-UK (Fast-uk), the U.S.-based Computers
and Sculpture Forum (CSF), and the French Ars Mathématica have
international scope and have been responsible for major RP exhibitions.
Recent shows, including the Intersculpt biennials and the
International Rapid Prototyping Exhibition (2003), exemplify
RPs transcendent aspects. More than just webcasting and videoconferencing,
these exhibitions have been physically realized and presented in multiple
and simultaneous yet independent venues. The telemanufacturing
phenomenon allows disseminated electronic code to be realized in RP machines
anywhere in the world.
started as a single-venue exhibition organized by Ars Mathématica
in 1993. Since then, it has been developed through the cooperation of
many curator/artists including Keith Brown, Dan Collins, Christian Lavigne,
and Michael Rees. In the latest of these simultaneous biennial exhibitions,
telemanufactured works were shared by artists located across the globe
and realized by RP machines in 10 international venues as diverse as Auckland,
Dakar, Hong Kong, Manchester, New Orleans, New York, and Paris. The recent
International Rapid Prototyping Exhibition, curated by RP
artists Mary Hale Visser and Robert Michael Smith, was originally shown
at Southwestern University in Texas and has since been re-exhibited with
sculptures newly printed at each venue, including New York Institute of
Technology (NYIT); Pennsylvania State University; University of Houston;
Yeditepe University, Istanbul; and Manchester Metropolitan University.
Brown, Geo, 2003. Laser-sintered rapid prototyped in polycarbonate
born from and developed within the engineering discipline, RP was almost
immediately recognized as an artistic tool as developers, including Pierre
Bezier, made aesthetically pleasing sculpted forms with their new machines.
Since this time, much engineer art, including physical expressions
of mathematical formulas, complex polyhedrons, and imagery derived from
ultrasound or other technologies, has been created through RP. While these
works are sometimes intricate and visually compelling, they are usually
trite systemic expressions symptomatic of RP used in engineering or medical
imaging laboratories. Artists first started using these technologies in
such scientific settings, and only recently have universities
and colleges incorporated dedicated RP facilities into studio arts and
design programs. These institutions include the Sarofim School of Fine
Arts at Southwestern University; the Partnership for Research in Spatial
Modeling (PRISM) Laboratory at Arizona State Universitys (ASU) School
of Art; Manchester Institute for Research and Innovation in Art and Design
(MIRIAD) at Manchester Metropolitan University; the École nationale
supérieure des beaux-arts, Paris; and the Fine Arts department
at NYIT, which boasts more digital sculptors on its faculty than any other
Snelson, Atom I, 2003. Laser-
sintered rapid prototyped in polycarbonate powder, 8 x 8 x 8 in.
inclusion of RP in established programs indicates institutional recognition
of this technology as a robust and expressive medium reflective not only
of faculty interests but of student demands to learn and adopt the newest
tools. NYIT and ASU among others now incorporate this training in graduate
programs. Digital sculpture classes and programs connote a maturity
for the technologies. Most of todays digital sculptors were pioneersfirst
trained to sculpt with physical materials, they discovered virtual modeling,
RP, and its freedoms (and limitations) later in their careers. These same
sculptors now instruct protégés whose first modeling experiences
may be realized through digital mediaa primacy that will undoubtedly
yield new concepts, attitudes, and forms.
modeling and animation software, including Maya, 3D Studio Max, Cinema
4D, and Rhino, are vast improvements over industrial CAD packages in terms
of features, usability, and affordability. Some, such as Wings 3D are
even available as shareware. However, in order to facilitate use for digital
sculpture, to rescue RP from an engineering-based interface, and to enhance
creative potential, artists have been working on new, intuitive interfaces.
In conjunction with Chris Burnett and Donald Guarnieri, Michael Rees has
developed open-source modeling software. Sculptural User Interface (SUI)
is free to download and a simple-to-learn yet endlessly dynamic virtual
tool.2 Works developed with such free or inexpensive software may be sent
by e-mail or FTP to public service bureaus that will, for a fee, realize
those files in RP machines.
access is constantly improving, ownership of RP machines is presently
quite exclusive. Limited to businesses, educational institutions, and
a few individuals, even the least expensive RP machines cost approximately
$20,000, require constant upkeep, and use proprietary materials. Some
project, however, that these technologies will become less expensive and
more accessible, perhaps as ubiquitous as the once exclusive color copierbefore
long, RP at Kinkos and Sir Speedy may be a reality.
Voigt, Double Helix x2Genesis Enigma, 2003. Laser-sintered
rapid prototyped in polycarbonate powder,
8 x 8 x 16 in.
challenge for digital sculpture artists, however, is to work with this
new electronic medium without relying on it for content or presence. The
virtual realm translated to the physical world, sculpture files traveling
around the world, infinite dissemination and reproducibility, and properties
of new materials are all compelling, but they do not automatically add
up to quality artistic forms and concepts.
forms straight from RP machines may exhibit a Modernist truth to materials,
expressions of the artists unadulterated concepts, or virtual hands,
but they are usually rendered in unappealing resins or fibers. The off-white,
egg-shell-like finish of the raw material lends itself to forms that evoke
bonesfor instance, Michael Reess Spine series
(2001) or the subtle abstract reliefs of Michael Somoroffs Tempus
Formare (2003).3 Without suitable subjects, however, these matte white
materials read as studies. Limited to sizes smaller than a cubic foot
in the most affordable machines, the sizes and plaster textures of the
raw works suggest maquettes. Moreover, the term prototyping
indicates the transient: each RP object seems merely a model for later
the revolutionary nature of RP, which allows for low cost and infinite
reproduction, and dissemination, the most high-profile artists using these
technologies have conformed to accepted practices that commodify the multiplenamely,
the principle of creating limited editions and objects realized in unique
finishes or materials. This limitation seems to be the cost of institutional
participation, especially in an art world that forces commodification
through scarcity and measures success through fiscal performance.
date, institutionally successful works have been transubstantiated,
as many artists have their forms painted or cast in bronze or other metals
in order to make works that are finished and attractive. RP
pieces become more acceptable when, through application of finish and
fetish, they offer an alluring materiality. Despite the RP sculptors
subversion of traditional media, materiality is re-established in singular
or rare objects when they are finished in bronze, paint, or other substances
or offered in limited editions. For instance, Michael Rees finished his
recent Putto8 220.127.116.11 sculptures (2003) in metallic or automotive paints.
The arguably best-known piece created from an RP process is Robert Lazzarinis
payphone (2002), featured at the 2002 Whitney Biennial. While Lazzarini
uses RP to model his compound planar or wave distortions, his pieces are
finished though painstaking material fabrication processes. He incorporates
the same substances as in the original objects: thus, anodized aluminum,
stainless steel, Plexiglas, and silk-screen for payphone; gilt porcelain
and stainless steel for teacup (2003); and wood, paper, fabric, pigment,
and other materials for table, notebook and pencil (2004).
Lazzarini, payphone, 2002. Anodized aluminum, stainless steel,
Plexiglas, and silk-screened graphics, 108 x 84 x 56 in. Photo:
jeffrey chong © robert lazzarini 2003
solution allowing the execution of digital sculpture in traditional media
is computer numerical control (CNC) milling. While these machines with
the capability to carve wood, stone, glass, and other materials are becoming
more common in industry, the Digital Stone Project in central New Jersey
offers the worlds only comprehensive facility for digital sculptors.
It is a newly formed not-for-profit organization that serves digital sculptors
and promotes the development of new technologies. Robert Michael Smith
expressed his biomorphic universal forms such as Amaranthe (2003) and
Ephesiancybergin (2003) in marble at this facility. Through the CNC process,
Smith was able to infuse his digitally generated work with marbles
substance and surface quality, including veins, impurities, and color
modulations. Many RP artists experiment with scaling their forms and realizing
them in different materials and processes. For instance, in addition to
the marble and smaller RP resin versions, Smith brought Amaranthe to fruition
through another CNC process, yielding a large form made from polyurethane-coated
milling is often used in conjunction with laser scanning to re-scale works.
For instance, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggens monumental
Inverted Collar and Tie (1994) was realized from a scanned maquette. William
Kreysler and Associates, a CNC pioneer, used the process not only to enlarge
the form, but also to analyze the works structure and realize it
with more appropriate and less expensive materials than originally planned.4
Van Gent, Rover, 2003. Laser-sintered rapid prototyped in
polycarbonate powder, 9 x 9 x 4.5 in.
the product of a new technology, RP sculpture today seems parallel to
nascent photography in showing an unfolding potential. RP art will likely
later seem much as we now perceive Niépces heliographs, Talbots
prints, or Daguerres plates. In early examples, we recognize technologys
promiseghostly images that will yield robust pigmentation; grainy
calotypic multiples that anticipate gelatin-silver negatives; even stereoscopic
prints that portend extraction of the real from the virtual.
using digital sculpture technologies point the way to the sculptures
potential. Intersculpt exhibitions show that the infrastructure
for increased accessibility is already in place. Like photographers hand-tinting
their work in the 19th century, artists who today transform materials
in their RP works disclose capabilities they desire. As the technology
becomes more sophisticated, these machines will enable incorporation of
color, illusionistic material expression, moving parts, and even controlled
application of different materials. Combined with nanotechnologies, these
machines may be able to express different materials through printing
molecular changes. RP artist Peter Voci has described todays machines
as primitive versions of Star Treks replicators. From
our position of hindsight, we observe that it took photography nearly
150 years to shed its marginalization as a documentary tool and gain complete
acceptance as a fine-arts medium. Though technologies have become adopted
with ever-increasing expediency, it may be decades before RP sculpture
(or whatever we will call it) loses its industrial character and becomes
identified with the fine arts.
V. Ganis is Assistant Professor of Art History at the New York Institute
of Technology. His recent book is Andy Warhols Serial Photography.
1 Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Stereoscope and the Stereograph,
in Alan Trachtenberg, ed., Classic Essays on Photography (New Haven: Lettes
Island Books, 1980), p. 80.
2 SUI is available at <http://www.michaelrees.com/sui/>.
3 Clear, translucent, and colored materials may be used in some machines.
4 A case study of this process is available at <http://www.kreysler.com/about/press/cda1-art.shtml>.
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