The artists exploring 3D technology
Produced by Griselda Murray Brown. Filmed by Richard Topping and Nicola Stansfield. Edited by Stephanie Trowell. Additional footage courtesy of Adu Lalouschek, Factum Arte, Waddesdon Manor and Thomas Dane Gallery. 'Benchmarks: New Prints by El Anatsui', October Gallery, London to May 13.
Artists are using the latest advances in 3D scanning and printing to explore new ways of working. Factum Arte is an organisation that works with artists and institutions to help create works of art using the technologies it develops. Last year at the Royal Academy and at Waddesdon Manor they set up the Veronica Scanner to create three dimensional portraits of visitors using a method of composite photography called photogrammetry. The words 3D printing might conjure images of smooth objects that bear no trace of the human hand. But artists are incorporating these new tools into their existing practises in inventive ways, balancing the materiality of the hand-made with the precision of the machine.
The Ghanaian artist El Anatsui is known for his hangings woven from bottle tops. They are made by pounding and flattening the bottle tops on worktops in his studio, inadvertently turning these wooden surfaces into pitted reliefs. And Anatsui sent the worktops to Factum Arte to be 3D scanned, and the information was then cut into aluminium sheets from which prints could be made. The resulting works are a collaboration between Factum Arte and the October Gallery in London. When we visited they were about to go on show.
What we have here is an off-cut from an original piece of work, which will have become a vast really huge sculpture or hanging. And the labour and intensiveness of this work has become apparent and in itself really rather beautiful in the texture and surface of the blocks of wood on which all this stabbing and bashing took place.
I think El realised that. So what his idea was was to send 14 of these tabletops Factum Arte where they were scanned. And then that information was then milled with a C&C mill into aluminium. So you got this complete facsimile, but now it's in the material that we can print from. And so we've then been able to use these aluminium plates and print them in the traditional way as though they were etching plates.
If you feel that there, you can actually feel the texture of the wood as well as see it. And so it isn't a flat digital print that's been whistled out by the press of a button. It's hand built, it's hand felt, it's hand printed, and it's hand conceived, really.
So these are in as sense don't really look like kind of traditional prints as people might imagine them.
Yeah, I definitely think they kind of have a strangeness to us, because you can feel that they have come through a digital process. They have a kind of photographic quality. They aren't a draw mark. And there's a kind of accuracy maybe about the mark that we don't know quite where it's come from. And yet they also have this amazing tactility and materiality that I think we don't associate with the digital world.
And how would you say these kind of works relate to El Anatsui's process or his practise rather, as a whole? People will know him from the hangings.
I think they relate very directly, indeed. In his large huge draped pieces there are areas of colour that have been sort of placed, juxtaposed to other areas with some sort of sensitivity and sense, but there within that there's randomness. In the same way, these are collages of printed material. Each one of these is a separate print that have been scattered and then gathered and reorganised.
As well as exploiting the possibilities of this technology, artists are also testing its limits. Born in Scotland but based in California, the artist Anya Gallaccio explores ideas of transformation and decay, often using organic materials. At Thomas Dane Gallery in London, she has 3D printed a model of the Devil's Tower mountain in Wyoming. But by choosing clay, she is subverting the sophisticated technology and dooming the project to fail.
I think that I'm always interested in failure, more precisely process. So I think often artists-- you have an idea and then you're trying to make something as perfect as you can, or to become really skilled or a master at a technique or material, overcoming a material. And I think all of my works are about this kind of tension of a collaboration between an idea and a material.
I was interested in the kind of rational logic of the machine, in terms of the computer thinks it's doing something and it doesn't know-- because my machine isn't that sophisticated-- when the clay is actually doing something else. Digital technology and computers give us some sense of truth or perfection, when actually always as with everything, it's a tool and it's about our skill and how we use that tool. For me, this is a drawing. It's a drawing machine.
The system is really rational, not gestural at all. It's making these small hexagons. It's working its way backwards or forth across this plan building up.
But because of the way the clay behaves like clay, all of these little tiny inconsistencies add up. So there's all these kind of really gestural baroque marks, expressive marks. If you go around the other side, the middle is like a big chocolate volcano because the clay just kept falling into this kind of pit.
Who do you say is kind of the author of the work that we see here? Is that you? Or is it the machine? What's the nature of that collaboration?
Oh. That's a really hard question. I don't know. I guess I'm the author in that the machine wouldn't have done it by itself. And the machine certainly wouldn't have thought this was a good idea.
I think those questions are in most things that are around us. They're more embedded, they're more hidden. So we maybe we don't think about it so much, in terms of who's made something. So I think labour is really, really fascinating.
Artists have always experimented with the new, from the coloured pigments of the Renaissance to the digital tools of today. But this doesn't mean an end to traditional artistic process. Rather the works we've looked at raise interesting questions about the complex nature of our relationship to technology.