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.
Clement Valla resolved to explore the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC) collection of ancient objects for his art investigation “Surface Survey 1989.121” (Clement had previously collaborated with them following his (and Erik Berglins) 'iconoclashes' exhibit. During an earlier Hack Day ran in collaboration with Autodesk The Metropolitan Museum had begun committing items of antiquity to 3D models using the 123D suite. This digital archive captivated Valla: “As I was looking through the models, cracking the files open to see how they were made, I came across the texture maps and was blown away. These things looked so similar to many of the displays of broken artefacts and shards actually on display at the met. Yet as human as they appeared at first glance, they were simultaneously unfamiliar, and it was clear they just didn't belong, from a human point of view.”
The texture maps which Clement zeroed in on are one of the intermediary steps that the 123D Catch app produces as it combines digital photo data into a 3D object. Clement's final piece places these fragments centre stage by physically printing them and positioning them beneath a projection of the texture map shards. Clement elaborates that “the sculptural fragments are positioned to echo the image fragments that were arranged by algorithms.” Arrayed together it resembles a cadaver of the software that translates snapshots of reality into a 3D model. But the end presentation isn't so alien at all: Clement has laid out the shards with an archaeological attentiveness to detail and taken together it's readily comprehended as a collage of algorithmic artifacts.
Clement's chosen mode of display exhibits the underlying curiosity this collaboration has sparked in him. “I am looking for and at algorithmic artifacts that are understandable - that don't look like indecipherable code, but that take on a format that leaves the potential for apophenia; artifacts that can be immediately and intuitively interpreted by humans.
Apophenia is the very human tendency to see meaningful patterns in noise, such as faces in clouds. The texture maps are a crucial part of 123D Catch reality translation process and they are objects “not created by human hands”, as Clement puts it. They are simultaneously objects of utility, insofar as the software is concerned, and intriguing images to the human eye. The latter is fairly incidental (again, so far as the algorithm is concerned) which is why Clement calls these images “collateral digital ephemera."
There is a strong link between “Surface Survey...” and Clement's previous work “3D Maps Minus 3D”. Both projects chronicle images not made by human hands. That's a particularly potent idea when we consider 3D printings ability to extrude objects into existence. Clement expands on this noting that “previously physical objects and images have traditionally been seen by there creators at the moment of production. A photographer sees the photograph: through the lens, on the negative, on the print.” Likewise, a sculptor bears witness to the object hewn from its source material. Clement's point is “algorithms and computers do not 'see' in any meaningful way, and so they're not producing images the way a human might produce art.”
With the arrival of 123D Catch Clement considers the die is cast in terms of 'computers-eyes-only' imagery: “Increasingly (perhaps exponentially) language and images are being produced by algorithms, shaped by huge processes involving partially automated networks of human and non-human agents. I'm interested in what we will make of all this stuff – how we will interpret and read meaning, or not, into all these images that will surround us. That's what attracted me to the images in the first place: that sense of attempt at order – the kind of archaeological struggle to discover the way in which things fit together.”
This is the second 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.