Video Work | Photo/Installations | Documentary Projects

Boston Herald, May 4, 1999
Future takes shape

By Annette Cardwell

Throughout history, sculpture has been crafted in many mediums: clay, metal, rock and even everyday objects. During the next few weeks at Boston's Computer Museum, the Boston Cyberarts Festival will show case the new medium for the 21st century in "Mind into Matter. New Digital Sculpture."
The digital sculptor works on a computer, shaping an image of the work using CAD (computer-assisted design) software, often used by industrial designers and architects. Some artists use 3-D scanners to record 3-D images of objects and even full human bodies.
However it is created, the image is then "printed" using a 3-D printer, such as the popular Z402 printer by Somerville's Z Corp.
Shaped like a box and as big as a large copier, a 3-D printer works by distributing a layer of its fine cornstarch-cellulose granules, and shooting binding solution - instead of ink - into that layer to meld certain grains together into the desired shape.
Once all the layers have processed, the printer vacuums away the excess grains, leaving a solid representation of the artist's CAD image, which can be reinforced using wax or resin.
The show's eight artists, from the United States and Canada, are some of the few who practice this cutting-edge technique. Brookline-based artist Denise Marika started out as a video artist but ventured into this high-tech medium when she saw the range of possibilities.
"I realized I could actually have my body scanned and multiply that image, and work with that in terms of my video performance piece," Marika said.
"What does it mean that you can process your body this way - through technology, retrieve that image, and work with that as a material for an art piece?" she said. "The ability to output fantastic images, being able to output at this kind of level and play with that output fascinates me."
Artist Michael Rees has been using the digital medium for four years, and got involved with this emerging technology out of sheer excitement over its possibilities.
"It was something of a conversion experience," said Rees. "I saw what I could do and said, 'I've got to do this. I put my experiences as a handmaker somewhat behind."
Rees first discovered this technology in its early stages, around 1989, and became an expert with it through passionate research. As a result, he works with computer hardware companies and has received grants to make these expensive tools (the Z402 sells for $59,000) more accessible.
"The thing that makes this compelling is that whatever you can design can be made," Rees said. "One of the pieces in this show is a skull that has almost four levels. That piece couldn't be made any other way, especially by hand. That ability to create objects just sets me free."
"Normally, our main target market is designers and engineers," said Z Corp. marketing manager Kate Moore, whose company's printer has been used to model prototypes for everything from running shoes to cars. "We think (digital art) is a really great spin-off to this whole business. It's really exciting."