While 3D printers plummet in price, a crucial question for creative is emerging – how to make models for your 3D printer to print? Autodesk have launched a suite of applications beneath the 123D banner. The applications work in browser or for free and on smartphones, and the elements of the suite all answer this call in different ways. Over the coming month we're spotlighting how a select group of artists created new works with the Autodesk tools.
We invited speculative sculptor (and occasional Dazed contributor) Lawrence Lek to explore the Autodesk 123D suite. Lawrence creates objects, environments and networks but the totality of his practice seeps beyond artifice and architecture, tracing domains within which our lived existence and technology intertwine. Lek chose the 123D Catch app, a tight piece of software that stitches together digital photos into a three-dimensional model that can be 3D printed. With the aid of Catch Lek created KI$$; an investigation into how 3D self-portraits enable the digital representation of emotion.
KI$$ revolves around two lovers (Lek himself and his partner Andi Schmied) moving to the point of kissing and recording themselves at the moment of touch. Each takes it in turn to freeze their position, as their partner moves around them, photographing their pose from all angles (in a process very similar to 360 degree panoramic photo apps). 123D Catch composites these photos into a 3D object. Additionally, all the images are captured as photo data, something Lawrence utilised for the final 3D printed sculpture.
Speaking of what inspired him Lek elaborates that “I wanted to capture the most intimate of moments with the most artificial technology". Staging the scene was important and the accessibility of the app played into that: “it's really intuitive and much closer to snapping a selfie than the process of engineering a really complex three dimensional form.”
Pliny's account of the invention of painting inspired KI$$: according to the ancient Roman scholar, portraiture's 'year zero' was “when a young woman traces the shadow of her lover's face onto a wall, just as he departs”. In Lawrence's eyes, 3D photography is the latest evolution of technology that enables us to capture private moments in willing materials. “To preserve a moment, it has to be sustained for longer than is natural. That act of turning intimacy into a work of art creates a distance from the subject, one amplified by our reliance on technology as prosthetic memory.”
Lawrence initially wished to render the model in stainless steel, but later opted to print it in plastic. “That begged an interesting reflection on the transformation I was evincing on this material. Because of what the material has 'gone through', in addition to the idea that it's expressing, the three-dimensional capture and rendering transforms this inert material into something quite special”.
The final form of KI$$ consists of the lover's pose rendered, life size, in white plastic. Lek projection maps this surface so that animations of each lover's singular pose illuminate the piece, creating a rippling interplay of animations, like iridescent petroleum shimmering on top of a body of water. The app and process allowed Lek to splinter an intimate moment into myriad digital shards, all of which he reassembles in the final work – and fittingly, the sum of their parts is something quite apart from its originary real-life couple. KI$$ articulates Lek's fascination with the "gap between digital and analogue form, the difference between how humans and computers perceive objects”. That's an important distinction when you consider the potential of 3D printing: that anything we imagine can be computationally composed, and printed into reality. Autodesk 123D is a tangible meeting of our imaginations with an algorithmic / computational capture of real world objects.
But isn't there a flipside to this? Given that a digital object can be replicated ad nauseum and omnipresently, might rapid fabrication diminish the value we place on objects, on art? That question is on Lawrence's mind, and though he offers no forecast, he does wonder if “maybe the only way to add significance to objects is to revisit our most primal relationships, and express them in their most spectacular form.”
This is the first in a series of four articles on creatives test driving Autodesk's terrific products, and the 3D art they came up with. Check out Autodesk's app here, and keep tabs on the project here.
All models printed at Shapeways New York.