Sunday, February 5, 2012

Rex Brodie - Laser Studies

Ah ... the existentialist funk of turning fifty makes one question what it’s all about.

Historically, the role of the artist has been to present us with ideas and perceptions for our contemplation.  The goal of many artists has been to create a “critical consciousness” that questions cultural traditions. As Suzi Gablick points out in her book Has Modernism Failed:

"There is always a correlation between society’s values, directions, and motives and the art it produces. Modernism, as we have seen, has cultivated its objects largely as a mode of cultural resistance–as antidotes to a bureaucratically administered and overrationalized way of life."

The inclusion of forms derived from digital fabrication techniques into my work is an attempt to explore the relationship between technology and society. I agree with historian Merrit Roe Smith’s theory of technological determinism, “the belief that technology is the key governing force in society.” Utopian visions of technology and the notion of “technology as liberator” have been instrumental in shaping the construct of our reality. As an artist, I believe it is important to think critically about the uses of technology.

One of the pieces I’m currently working on, Life Force, clings to the romantic modernist notion that the mark of the artist is a uniquely individual expression of the spirit. The bone-like forms in the sculptures are mechanically reproduced on the laser cutter and assembled into organic compositions. Conceptually, the process is as important as the final art object. By using the technology of industryparticularly, the digital fabrication technology used by “commodity-producers” of aesthetic “goods”in an improvisational manner and juxtaposing the precise repetitive machine made parts with the free-form elements created by the artist's hand, I hope to create a sculpture which questions technology’s impact on our identity and perception of self. 

With no preconceived form in mind, I experimented in Rhino until I discovered an appropriate shape.

I brought the shape into illustrator to change the scale and create the file for the laser cutter. The notch was added after doing some experimenting upon receiving my first batch of laser cut parts. 

Prior to this quarter, the sculptures I’ve been working on have been an exploration of the impermanent nature of life. Variable building materials, some with long histories of being used for structurally sound objects like shelter and furnishings, are precariously held together with clamps and zip ties.

Continuing with this concept, the first avenue I followed was to create a wooden form held together with thumb screws and pressure-fit joints. The only permanent part of the structure is the bent lamination in the middle of the piece which was necessary for support. The other bent forms were createdwhile listened to Miles Davisusing a hot pipe method.

Like the pinch clamps and zip ties, the thumb screws are paradoxically both captor and liberator. While they allow me to bind materials together, they also liberate me from making permanent connections … allowing for greater freedom for improvisation. 

Moving away from the idea of impermanence, I decided to explore the use of steel as a supporting structure. Steel allows for a variety of different forms not possible with wood. However, it is much more difficult to control and does not allow the subtle twists and bends that wood does.

I was thinking of my father-in-law and his Alzheimer’s when I decided to add the neuron-like forms made from zip-ties and tile spacers. Still a work in progress ... I’m not exactly sure of where this one is headed but then that’s the nature of the unknown.

Update: 2/16/2012
The piece continues to evolve … decided include some more direct biological references by replacing the metal base with some representational (1/2” ply) hip bone cross sections.

Update: 3/9/2012
Several hundred parts cut and ready to assemble into a site responsive piece

Lately, I’ve been fascinated with the residual materials left over from the art-making process. Serendipitously, happy accidents often occur, and sometimes the remnants can be really spectacular. This is often true with the “waste” materials from the laser-cutting process. In this experiment, I am using the cut-offs from my laser cutting as well as some that I have found in the trash. Although my past use of color has been limited and I don’t really know what I’m doing with the pastels, I enjoy the process immensely.  Who knows, maybe an “art” object will be the end result.

Ode to Brian Dettmer

Brian Dettmer creates some truly amazing sculptures from old books. When he gave a lecture at SCAD last year, I had the good fortune to have a studio visit with him. What I like best about his work is his process: when he begins a piece, he has no preconceived plan. As he excavates the book, he allows what’s inside to dictate the direction he follows and to reveal the piece's meaning.  Reminds me of a quote from the artist Paul Soldner:.
“There can be no fear of losing what was once planned, and there must be an urge to grow along with the discovery of the unknown … make no demands, expect nothing, follow no absolute plan, be secure in change, learn to accept another solution, and, finally, prefer to gamble on your own intuition.” 
I thought it would be interesting to cut a book with the laser cutter. My original concept was to create a piece about the abject of beauty in art. I wanted to slice a Victorian lace pattern from a book on contemporary art and then rearrange the pages into a sculpture. Unfortunately, laser burns the book more than I had hoped. The lace pattern was too tight, and the book caught fire when we tried to run it! I had to settle for a simple geometric shape.

Not exactly what I had in mind, but the end result was visually interesting. However, it would be difficult not to get some interesting combinations when you’re working with images of work created by great contemporary artist .

To date, I have created several forms using the serial slicing techniqueI really like the texture and patterns of the cardboard.  I will combine these with some forged steel elements later in the quarter.

Update: 2/21/2012

Working old school using Professor Scott’s manual approach for creating ribs…

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