Monthly Archives: April 2016

Review with Prof Stephen Farthing (UAL Chelsea, 2.30 pm 20 April 2016)

Points for discussion at this meeting

These points revolve around the idea of touching the sculpture or picture of a nude life model to trigger her narrative in the artwork:

1. Which of the various alternative presentations work best in your view?

2. Should prevalent social attitudes determine whether the naked body should be touched by the viewer? Does touching the base of a sculpture only or a picture of the face of the model resolve any issues that this raises?

3. What narrative focus and length works best in your view – her early life, being a dancer, as a life model or a mix? Longer clips create more depth of understanding but will these hold the viewer’s attention?


4. I am seeking advice about widening my research topic ‘How digital innovation can provide new opportunities for the artistic presentation of the life model’ to the human character or in some way to allow me to deal with the clothed figure, dance performance, or the kind of mixed object touch narrative exhibition (possibly targeted at a blind audience) you suggested last time.

Our first meeting last December

We met at the end of my first term (of 6). After showing you a brief portfolio of mainly life drawings I described my idea of ‘Giving the Model a Voice’. Vanessa, my life model had started to record her story as part of my intention to produce a touch narrative life sized painting of her similar to this. When you touch part of the painting you would hear her voice.


I had also made several 3D scans of Vanessa using an attachment to a mini iPad and just finished using one of them to make a 1m long sculpture comprising 244 pieces of laser cut MDF.

Laser Cut Sculpture from 3D Scan

You said that you thought my ideas were “very strong” particularly because my non art related background meant that my concepts were original and not coming from research of other artists’ work in order to find my own voice and style.

You were very enthusiastic about the idea of giving the object of an artwork a voice and were surprised that others had not already done this. You suggested that a sculpture would be better than a painting as viewers would find this more natural to touch, but probably not a sliced sculpture as you thought that this was now less original.

You made several suggestions to enhance my idea, and could envisage a very successful professional exhibition with many different pieces (not just life sculpture). Perhaps one was sad and another happy? What would a Kalashnikov say? Or a pineapple?

We agreed to meet again at the end of my second term when hopefully I would have progressed further with this central idea.

Progress since we last met

I decided that I would first need to continue making a touch narrative painting as I thought it an easier proof of concept than a sculpture. This was achieved by making a copy of a Michel Canetti painting ‘Red Lips’ – as it’s style lent itself to isolating areas to touch to initiate different narratives. At this stage I was less concerned with the content and more with finding out whether I could make the concept work. My original artwork would come later.

I thought it important that the mechanics be invisible to the viewer in order not to distract them from the art itself – so decided that these would need to be out of sight on the rear of the canvas. The whole process involved learning how to edit sound into clips (Audacity) that I could embed in a microprocessor (Bare Conductive Arduino Touch Board), connecting this to parts of the painting through the canvas (using Conductive materials), and making the microprocessor play the clips when the painting was touched (Sketch Programming), and then wirelessly transmitting the narratives to a sound system (Bluetooth). All this was unfamiliar to me. I also needed to discover which mechanics to use and how to make the elements work together reliably.

FullSizeRender 23


I titled the artwork ‘Unrequited Love’. When the viewer touched different parts of the painting it spoke to them directly with a different narrative. The viewer discovered that they were the one the painting was in love with.

To make a touch narrative life sculpture I first needed to learn how to make a 3D print from the digital scan. I wanted to make a metre tall sculpture. The iPad Structure Sensor scan quality is high but not high enough for this purpose at scale, so I sought help to improve it. This involved external expertise in digital sculpting software (ZBrush) and then in other software used by the Digital Fabrication Department at CSM to check and resolve issues and to allow the 3D print to be manufactured within the physical limitations of their equipment. Cost and practical considerations meant settling for a 75cm tall sculpture in four pieces that I had to bond together after 3D printing.


I have yet to complete the editing of Vanessa’s 2 hour long narratives to make clips to be played when the artwork is touched, but have included some rough cuts here. Vanessa and I are jointly curating the final work. We have also yet to decide what parts of the body to touch. The current narratives do not relate to particular parts of the body, but if I want them to Vanessa has offered to record more that do. We have met to discuss all these aspects and she is happy for the viewer to touch anywhere on the artwork to play any of her recordings, but I will ask her to make the final decisions (after all, the piece is about giving the model a voice): In the end the practicalities of what can be achieved technically and what is acceptable socially for a life sculpture will limit the touching options.

I have experimented with a couple of ways to add the touch sensitive voice narrative feature. I would prefer not to paint the sculpture, but so far this is the only way I can demonstrate that it works. The areas to touch are first painted in black conductive paint with circuits going down to the base. The whole sculpture is then sealed and repainted in off white. The black conductive paint entering the base is then connected to the microprocessor in the same way as the proof of concept painting. All mechanics and devices are hidden in the base.

The preferred alternative (and one that may be more acceptable socially) is to leave the 3D printed sculpture unpainted externally but painted on the underside of the base only.

The idea is that the viewer touches the base externally and the conductive sensor is sensitive enough to respond through the base. This requires some reprogramming of the Arduino Touch Board to increase its sensitivity. I know this can be done and have organised some technical assistance to help me do it.

I also had the upper body printed a second time. Firstly, to make a metal casting at UAL Camberwell and secondly, I have used it to test out alternative touch narrative mechanisms for the full body sculpture such as those described above (I will bring it to show you it working).


The lost wax process for making a metal sculpture was also new to me and extremely time consuming. However, I now have the wax mould ready to make a wax model in order to make both an Aluminium casting (as it is a conductive material) and a Bronze (which sadly is not, but I want one anyway).

The Aluminium casting can be touched anywhere on the external surface to play a narrative (because it is all conductive). I do however need to reprogram the Arduino Touch Board to randomly select narratives when the surface is touched by the viewer. All mechanisms will be hidden in a base as before.

By the time we meet I will also know whether I can make another 3D printed life sculpture which I hope can be 90 cm tall made in 5 pieces. It will be transparent through the 3D printed mesh. The intention is to paint the inside of the sculpture with conductive paint with the circuits ending in the base as described earlier. This painting will need to be done before the sculpture is assembled. In that way a different narrative can be played depending on where the sculpture is touched by the viewer.

An issue to be discussed with Digital Fabrication technicians is whether shrinkage of the 3d printed pieces during and after manufacture is likely to be minimal (there was some on the solid sculpture which had to be resolved myself by hand). Otherwise the many ends of the 3D printed mesh in each piece will not align properly during assembly.

Click on the arraow to activate rotation

Finally I decided to experiment with some other software (Autodesk MeshMaker and Photoshop) to morph the 3D scan of Vanessa into various contemporary forms. The idea is to produce a large scale (3m x 1m) touch narrative exhibition quality digitally printed canvas (in fact 4 butted together – something I had seen done at the Saatchi gallery, Chelsea). The canvas prints are now ready to be mounted on stretchers. I will bring one unmounted to show you. The piece is entitled ‘Giving the Model a Voice – Confronting the Gaze’. By touching the model’s face in the picture the viewer ‘gives the model a voice’, thereby humanising her. She does not therefore remain a ‘passive’ female for the ‘active’ male to gaze at with sexualised connotations as the Theory of the Gaze suggests. Thus the Gaze can be confronted by the viewer if they choose to do so.

Giving the Model a Voice – Confronting the Gaze

Giving the Model a Voice - Confronting the Gaze

3 Digital Prints plus                                                                                  Touch Narrative Digital Print

































Reflections on Mid-Point Review

Giving the Model a Voice - Confronting the Gaze

I have reflected upon the comments made on Skype as well as in my own recording of the Crit session in our Camberwell studio. I have also reviewed this blog in a meeting with my life model, Vanessa as I wanted to include her views before publishing it. It is interesting that she could not see why there was such controversy about the possibility of touching her nude image. It did not present a problem to her. She questioned why I had stepped back and made the touching element only the base of a sculpture or the digitally printed image of her face and shoulders. I will also be reviewing this work with Prof Stephen Farthing in the near future and will post his views in a future blog.

It was not until Jonathan invited closing remarks from my fellow students during the crit that David commented ‘perhaps Terry was questioning the spectator in the work’ that I felt anyone really ‘got’ the main point of it. This is why I have given an explanation below. I was also grateful that Philip understood that the piece was experimental and that was the reason I was trying as many devices as possible so that I could get a view on what worked and what did not. Donald was right in saying that by going beyond presenting each element of my work separately and putting them together in a controversial piece, that the work itself would get very little airtime. The discussion would focus on the controversial. And it did. I expected that to some extent but not to almost the exclusion of everything else.

I had assumed that most were already familiar with the ‘Concept of the Gaze’ in fine art theory but given some of the questions I think that this idea needed to be re-iterated in my presentation (although it was in my longer version in my last blog). Then it would have been apparent why the life model was female, and that I as a male ‘Confronting the Gaze’ was meant to be even more powerful than if a female (making a feminist point) were doing so.

Perhaps I should have just called the piece ‘Confronting the Gaze’ as ‘Giving the Model a Voice’ and ‘Touch’ by the spectator were the means by which this could be achieved.

The model could thus engage with the work and present herself as a human being rather than as a sexualualised object. The spectator, through touch, could personally and directly express their wish to do so (or not) by humanising the model and not viewing her just as a sexual object. To answer Katerina’s question, touch deliberately raised sexuality as a question. From the outset, the piece was understood by the artist and the model to be controversial, with the aim that it would engage the audience in heated debate. And it did, as the Crit went on for 25 minutes rather than the planned 10 to 15.

In my slides I stated several times that I was NOT the curator of the work, my model Vanessa was. Yet this was questioned. Vanessa freely chose the pose, had complete control to choose whether to be touched and if so where it was permitted to do so, as well as to make and chose her own narratives. Perhaps I should have emphasised this in my own voice during the presentation.

Interestingly, towards the end of the crit Jonathan said that he found the content of Vanessa’s narrative very interesting and commented that this was not talked about at all.  After the crit Jonathan even suggesting to me that the work could be Vanessa’s voice alone without any images or touching.

GIVING THE MODEL A VOICE – Confronting the Gaze

‘In a World ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its fantasy onto the female figure, which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness’ (Laura Mulvey, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, from Visual and Other Pleasures, P19)

The ‘Concept of the Gaze’ in academic fine art theory is primarily concerned with a man’s gaze at a woman. That is the reason, as the title suggests, that for this artwork I chose a woman as a life model and not a man (or even myself as some suggested).

This work is therefore and necessarily a joint collaboration between myself and my model Vanessa Abreu, an MA trained contemporary dancer, choreographer and life model for the Royal Drawing School. It is obvious from her pose that she is a dancer. This is important as I hope to bring this aspect into later works where dance performance and digital technology interact.

My practice began as life drawing and my primary objective here is not to treat the life model solely as an object in the work but to bring their humanity into it: In this case to express Vanessa’s feelings through her own reflective narrative so as to engage the viewer in a way that respects her as a human being and not just a beautiful female nude to gaze at.

Vanessa chose her own pose, and in the final work curated the choice of images and her narratives. She also chose whether to give the viewer permission to touch and determined any limits she wanted to impose. This has to be if I, the artist, am truly going to give the model her own voice and not my own, and to respect her personal space and feelings.

The gaze in this context seems somewhat impersonal to me and to confront it I needed the viewer to directly interact with the work. If they do not then they are playing out their role exactly as the concept of the gaze espouses.

However, if they do interact, the artwork expands to reveal the model’s personality, hopes, feelings and fears. She is not just a naked model to gaze at and walk impersonally by. The viewer can now see the model as Vanessa and is moved to concentrate on her as a person and to understand something of her inner self. The viewer’s thoughts will now not just focus on her image.

The decision to engage the viewer by touching Vanessa’s digitally printed image or sculpture was a difficult one. Something which caused a lot of discussion among my art mentors, colleagues and friends. There were some who were strongly opposed and others who felt exactly the opposite.

The act of touching a person could be said to cross current social boundaries and to even make a viewer react as if they were not treating the model with respect. But it is not her actual body that is touched (as is the case with some other controversially exhibited works) but an image (as Philip pointed out). And if that engages viewers in heated debate about the issues Vanessa and I have raised, then we the collaborating artists feel that is a price worth paying.

My aim here is not to objectify women which I hope engages today’s modern man (and woman) in a positive way, and to respect women as they would want to be respected themselves. I have Vanessa to thank for her vital involvement in this work.

For the present I have decided not to retreat to a non controversial presentation of my work. It will be interesting to see how it develops and the future reactions I get from my fellow students, tutors, and visiting artists.