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Fluid Borders:
The Aesthetic Evolution of Digital Sculpture(con't)
            by Christiane Paul
Developments, Access and Availability

For all of the sculptors, the possibility of designing and creating sculptures that couldn't be realized with traditional practices is the primary reason for their use of digital technologies. The exploration of the extent to which computing technologies may give rise to new possibilities of thinking about and producing sculpture is the major factor in Keith Brown's work. As Dan Collins puts it, the technology is too precious, too time-consuming and too learning-intensive to expect anything less than the creation of work that couldn't be accomplished in any other way.

In terms of aesthetic growth it has felt like stepping off a scooter and climbing into the cockpit of a supersonic jet that hits Mach10. I work rapidly through innumerable permutations of new concepts to build many forms that I would not have had the time to conceive otherwise. - Robert Michael Smith

The technological developments over the past couple of years have made it possible to control the kind and degree of distortion imposed on a given object or data set, as Dan Collins sums it up. Scaling operations, proportional shifts, eccentric vantage points, morphing processes, and 3D montage are some of the techniques his body of work explores. Keith Brown finds new developments in Layer Manufacturing techniques and the introduction of wider ranges of material have been of particular importance.
For Derrick Woodham, the "mutual reality" environment provided by Active Worlds constitutes a technological development that will affect his work in the most profound way. He is still gathering the pieces of his experience in DAAP, negotiating the extent of his engagement with the present and future capabilities of the application, and feels that it is too early to step back and objectively evaluate.
Over the past couple of years, the availability of technological tools has definitely improved; there are now more companies that build data capture and output devices, which has lowered unit costs, and there have been consistent improvements and cost reductions in all CAD/3D animation programs and related hardware.
Dan Collins and his colleagues set out to build a fully capable lab at Arizona State University in 1994 and now that PRISM functions as a working prototype - equipped with state of the art computers, laser scanners, and several output devices -- he feels that he is only beginning to get started. Keith Brown also sees a generally democratizing effect when it comes to costs. He is eagerly waiting for the affordable 3D desktop printer, (which will supposedly be available in two years) and Robert Michael Smith is convinced that the day of the 3D Kinko's is imminent. Million-dollar visualization technology has become available to even the grassroots digital sculptor for well under a thousand dollars, as Smith puts it.

Dan Collins
Although there have been significant advances in Rapid Prototyping processes, Smith points out that availability still is a major problem because of very high production costs -- an experience that is shared by Michael Rees who states that all the access he received has been won at great effort on his part and feels that artists are largely left out of the mix.

Robert Michael Smith
Availability and access aren't only a matter of technological developments and lower costs but of a cultural climate that supports venues of access. As of yet, there are no art schools dedicated to the discipline of digital/virtual sculpture and labs such as PRISM are still an exception. Christian Lavigne finds that the transdisciplinary character of digital sculptors' activity tends to disturb systems that are used to separating individuals and genres.
Since 1988, he has proposed the creation of an international research and teaching center for sculpture (Centre International de Recherche et d'Enseignement de la Sculpture -- project CIRES) that would allow sculptors, architects and designers to learn about new techniques and materials as well as to produce works relevant to new object technologies.
Access to the technology and integration into the art market are still two of the major problems for digital sculptors. Lavigne believes that the situation is in some respects improving because the industry has become more and more interested in novel productions that validate their market image -- however, these potential sponsors are not prevalent enough yet.
Keith Brown
Although most of the artists are users rather than creators of the technology they employ, they certainly have an impact on its development. The creation of new hardware and software is not only a matter of a hands-on implementation and programming -- the process of conceptualizing, envisioning and employing it towards new goals also is of crucial importance.

Derrick Woodham
As co-director of an interdisciplinary lab, Dan Collins feels that he has a least "a whisper of an influence" on the projects that pass through the lab's doors. His contribution may often be more conceptual and aesthetic than technological, but he considers himself to be part of a process. He sees his most fundamental contribution to the "technology" in the coordination of clusters of machines and human resources that previously had not been utilized together in the same space.

I have about as much involvement with developing digital tools as most sculptors with their chisels or a fighter pilot with his jet. I fly these machines exceptionally well but rarely get my hands greasy in the engine turbines. - Robert Michael Smith

Robert Michael Smith states that he hasn't created much of the technology but he has agreed to Alpha-test a prototype 3D input device -- intended to simulate manual clay modeling of computer wireframe meshes -- and has occasionally been a software Beta tester. His work on the CD-ROM game "Millennium Auction" was, at the time, groundbreaking for the introduction of low-polygon count 3D virtual actors and aesthetically credible sets.
Michael Rees

Robert Michael Smith
Michael Rees, who has worked with one software company to implement ideas in their product, has been striving to contribute by lobbying for certain technological developments -- most notably the use of color in RP. He has published and lectured widely about it and it has by now become a more significant issue in the rapid prototyping world.
Most of the time, the implementation of ideas regarding technological developments would require to stop the practice as an artist and commit to the technology side, which most artists aren't willing to do.Keith Brown also feels that understanding the problems of the technology is enough for him. He has brought up a few unresolved problems in hardware and software situations which are now addressed by engineers.

Michael Rees
The relationship between art and technology has always been a dialectical one, as Christian Lavigne puts it, and the productivity of their relation ideally requires equal funding for artistic and scientific/industrial research and a continuous exchange between these realms. An understanding of the technique and means of creation is an important factor in this process. Lavigne quotes Picasso, who, contemplating an African statuette, once said: "I don't know what it wants to say but I know how it wants to say it."

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