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.
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.
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
3 Digital Prints plus Touch Narrative Digital Print