Automation of Art (Part 02) | The Open College of the Arts
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Automation of Art (Part 02)

Copyright 2014 Nick Ervinck
Copyright 2014 Nick Ervinck

In the previous post I looked at how laser cutters are being used to streamline the production of stencil based designs and layered constructs. Now, whilst pieces such as the work of Eric Standley’s intricate Windows could have been made by hand, it would be quite a time consuming process. The use of a laser cutter has given his visions more viability and greater scope to be explored and developed.
I will admit and say that the various processes used to create pieces of art do cloud my judgment slightly. I was becoming more concerned about how an item was made rather than appreciating it for its aesthetic value. I proposed that the automation of producing through technology takes something away from the piece. However Eric responded with a line in the comments thread saying, ‘If aura exists in the artefact, it is brought there by the faith of the viewer’
I find this line quite pertinent; it should be down to the faith of the viewer and their belief in the artistic direction and talent of the artist. Work should be seen first for what it is and not judged upon how it has come to be.
Perhaps my creative faith needs rejuvenating…
Anyway, with this in mind I would like to draw your attention to the rapidly growing world of 3D printing. Like the laser cutter, 3D printers were engineered and developed for the fabrication and milling industry. Aside from the great and very ground-breaking endeavours in the fields of military and medicine for example these tools are being used to create some fascinating pieces of art.
Typically there are two main types of 3D printers, there are others but I will mention briefly just these two. The first is an extruder-based design, this works by using typically PLA or ABS plastic filament that is passed through a heated nozzle, which then extrudes out on average a 0.1mm line of molten plastic, this then quickly solidifies and starts to form the layers of the construct. This style of machine became more common and popular in the public domain via Makerbot’s products.
The other type of machine uses a process called Selective Laser Sintering ‘SLS’ that focuses a fine laser beam to fuse together various powdered materials. Each fine layer is then lowered into the machines matrix chamber and a new coating of material is swept over, then the laser fuses the next layer to the previous. It is this process that excites me the most due to the wide range of powdered materials being used. Aside from ceramic and plastic based powders, there are fine metal composite powders such as titanium, silver, gold and brass that are being used and refined.
When mentioning 3D printed art you might be thinking of some multi-coloured plastic object that resembles a Kinder Egg toy. However creators, designers and artists have embraced this technology and have been producing some incredible pieces. The first artist who’s work I find very interesting is that of Gilles Azzaro in particular his piece, ‘Next Industrial Revolution’. This 3D printed waveform of Barack Obama’s speech is quite a fascinating blend of technology and art.
Aside from certain realisations through this technology, it is the intricacy and near impossible designs that can be produced, that I find more fascinating. I am quite drawn to the otherworldly pieces by Nick Ervinck, such as ‘Agrieborz’, pictured above. It is work of this style, which I question if it could be created by any other process other than a 3D printer. Are we now seeing objects that were physically impossible to make before; if so, is it automated art if it is the only way to produce it?
Deviating slightly from these constructs, 3D printing combined with advanced x-ray/3D scanning is transforming the world of reprographics, more specifically the reproduction of classic paintings. Tim Zaman, a researcher at Delft University of Technology has made a near perfect replica of Rembrandt’s ‘Jewish Bride’.
Through hi-resolution scanning, Zaman has made a detailed model of the painting. The resulting CAD file details the very topographical like nature of every brush stroke, paint smear and crack. It is this depth and characteristic that is typically lost in standard fine-art reproduction. An up close section almost looks like a mountain range, with valleys and peaks formed from paint, just a minute fragment is alluring. Could this process, along with the advanced x-ray imaging that reveals the hidden layers be used to create copies of paintings that are indistinguishable from the originals?
Alas I cannot resist, my geeky side wants a say. This technology and all of its applications reminds me of the replicators from Star Trek. Are we now witnessing the birth of such devices that can effectively create wondrous items from just a base material? I’ll admit it is far cry from the notion of a machine that can rematerialize matter via transporter technology into both organic and inorganic forms. Yet the basis is there, could we start to see 3D printers in homes printing a new pair of socks or a replacement mobile phone, only time will tell.
For now you will still have to cook your dinner and darn your socks, but being able to print out a scaled Rodin in gold for your desk, see companies like i.materialise.
As well as the work mentioned above; fashion designers have also explored this medium and produced some interesting garments, see:
Iris Van Herpen
Bradley Rothenberg & Swarovski’s underwear collaboration

Posted by author: Russell Squires
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2 thoughts on “Automation of Art (Part 02)

  • Hi Russell. I saw a 3-d printer at work earlier this year at London Graduate Fashion Week but your fascinating article has made me think more deeply about the implications for the future. The links you give are a bonus and show how quickly creative people adapt to and exploit new technologies. It will be interesting to follow the development of 3-d printing in the months and years ahead. I have forwarded the link to my daughter who is a fashion designer. She will recognise the potential, I am sure.

  • Hello Anne,
    Indeed I’m quite excited about 3D printers and their role, not just for creatives but in a wider context. I’m hoping they will aid in reducing our throw away cultures attitude regarding broken technological items. I’m also keenly interested in their use of visualising data such as audio wave forms and possibly photographic histograms as this is on par with a PHD proposal I wish to make at some point.

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