Symbiosis Of Art And Technology Through Large-Format 3D Printing

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US contemporary artist Welly Fletcher builds a bridge to prehistoric cave art with a Large-Format 3D printed sculpture made with the BigRep ONE.

40,000 years ago, cave-dwelling Homo sapiens carved out a sculpture of a lion man into an ivory tusk using primitive chisels and tools.

The sculpture, which was discovered almost 100 years ago in a cave in south Germany, remains the earliest known example of Homo sapien art – and serves as a stark reminder of the extraordinary cognitive traits which have allowed our species to develop societies, religions, and technologies.

After experiencing the prehistoric sculpture in the Museum of Ulm in Germany firsthand, Albuquerque-based artist Welly Fletcher was inspired to create a sculpture for their latest exhibition SLANT at the Richard Levy Gallery in New Mexico. The sculpture explores the historic symbiosis of art, technology, and our species’ kinship with animals.

Adding 3D Printing to the Palette

Fletcher’s sculptural centerpiece ‘Trans Time’, measuring 0.9 × 2.1 × 0.7 mts (36 × 86 × 28 inches), is an abstract depiction of a lion-like animal printed using the large-format BigRep ONE 3D printer.

Beginning as a clay model produced by the artist, the piece underwent a transformative journey as it was digitally scanned before emerging as a 3D printed object, made using the University of New Mexico’s Art Lab BigRep ONE 3D printer.

“The more I learned and experimented with the 3D printer, the more magical the results became. The printer gave both myself and my students the chance to understand the process behind translating analog techniques into digital.”

commented Fletcher, who teaches sculpture and digital technology at the University of New Mexico.
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Paying homage to the manner in which the original Lion Man sculpture is presented in the Museum of Ulm in Germany, Fletcher’s 3D printed animal head sculpture sits proudly upon an outline of a steel animal skeleton, which itself is fixed to a plasma-cut steel base.

While the orange-coloured sculpture is both visually and physically impressive in its proportions, Fletcher’s deliberate choice of BigRep’s PLA bioplastic aligned perfectly with the exhibition’s theme of human-animal kinship and the body’s resistance to the environmental destruction of our species. Perhaps most significantly, the absence of carbon processes and toxic oils in PLA enhances the narrative of the artwork, further emphasizing our species’ complicated relationship with the planet.

“When I started reading about the non-carbon-based processes of PLA, I was even more convinced of its ability to reinforce the environmental aspect of my work”

added Fletcher, who recently added the malleable bioplastic to her palette of materials.

Large-Format 3D Printing for Sizeable Sculptures

Fletcher was also eager to highlight the practical benefits of incorporating the BigRep ONE printer into their artistic process.

Where traditionally, artists and their teams face numerous logistical hurdles in the transportation and in the assembly of separate heavy pieces; the BigRep ONE 3D printer enabled Fletcher to print the entire Trans Time sculpture as a unified whole, thus minimizing the complexity of production and assembly.

Describing the experience as transformative, Fletcher emphasized how the seamless printing of the entire sculpture marked a significant shift in their artistic process.

While the original cave sculpture stands as a testament to the imaginative prowess of early Homo sapiens, the primitive tools of that era made its production a complex and time-consuming task, with some estimates suggesting it could have taken a group of humans around 400 hours to complete.

Thanks to BigRep ONE, however, contemporary artists now have the ability to effortlessly produce much larger and more complicated forms at the touch of a button – a sentiment that further underlines the enduring alchemy of the medium of sculpture.

“3D printing grants artists working with sculpture a significant advantage. It enables the creation of objects that simply aren't feasible by hand. Witnessing the final object materialize before your eyes has a magical quality to it.”

Fletcher elaborated.

Analog Roots in a Digital World

There’s a comforting circularity associated with Fletcher’s Trans Time sculpture. On one hand, its prehistoric connotations draw our attention to the elasticity of time and the prevalence of human creativity. On the other hand, we’re reminded of the powerful symbiosis between art and technology, and, ultimately, are left with an overwhelmingly positive impression of our species thanks to the sculpture’s use of eco-friendly materials.

With digital technologies such as 3D printing proving invaluable to the field of sculpture, Fletcher’s advice to artists wanting to incorporate 3D printing into their work is simple: let the process inform the results.