Man versus machine. To many, it's a theoretical battle best enjoyed via books or big screen. For artists, it cuts to the very nature of their craft. How do the tools artists use shape their ideas, process, and finished product?
It's an intriguing question posed with full force in the "Materialize: 3D Printing & Rapid Prototyping" exhibition at Shemer Art Center in Phoenix, which includes diverse works created using a variety of 3D technologies.
The center is an early 20th century home transformed into an arts education, exhibition, and retail space. Works by more than 20 artists are currently exhibited in small rooms converted into galleries, plus the center's foyer just off the sculpture garden.
Two "Materialize" artists, Elijah Bourque and Kevin Caron, have pieces in the garden. Bourque's Synchronicity, a lopsided tower of white partial spheres first installed along Scottsdale Road through the Scottsdale Public Art platFROM series, now beckons visitors from a garden corner.
Bourque's "Materialize" works reflect the intersection of art with biology, as do those of Mary Neubauer, sculptor and faculty member for the School of Art at Arizona State University, and works by Christine Cassano. Their shapes and materials have an organic feel
All stand in stark contrast to the highly-polished stacks of identical silica-filled resin objects exhibited by David Van Ness, foundations faculty for the Northern Arizona University School of Art, and perfectly symmetrical 3D-printed resin black jewelry with bow tie by Japan's married artist/architect duo MonoCircus.
Film and video installation artist Denise Marika delivers a powerful punch with Recoil, a video installation with sound that shows an unclothed man hunched over as he's repeatedly hit by art objects launched from 3D technology working like a baseball pitching machine.
Most alluring are Push, Wake, and Peti by Michigan artist Phillip Renato, which marry plastic and nylon with cast silver and bronze. Renato infuses shapes associated with personal care products with subtle but profound sensuality.
"Materialize" was juried by Dan Collins, intermedia professor with the School of Art at ASU and co-director of an ASU interdisciplinary 3D modeling and rapid prototyping facility called PRISM lab.
You'll think there's beer on tap when you spot a trio of works by John Penn, all tap handles created with 3D printed resin. Perhaps knowing beer is best partnered with sports, Collins also selected R. Eric McMaster's Facemash comprised of red side-by-side football helmets, and Mark Prusten's Prototype for F1 Grand Prix Season made with rapid phototyping.
Consider as you're exploring "Materialize" which outputs couldn't have been achieved by means other than 3D technology, including direct manipulation of materials by an artist's hands. It's these pieces that demonstrate the best potential of 3D technologies to enhance our aesthetic landscape.
Donald Vance III created Consumer Consumption Consume with CNC laser cut Baltic birch and computer animation data of a figure eating ribs. It's a whimsical piece, but not aesthetically enhanced in any way by the method used to make it.
Max Chandler's work represents a different iteration on the man/machine collaboration. Chandlers paints using two mediums: acrylic and robot. Signage explaining the process accompanies several of his "Materialize" pieces, which include his M2 Robot made with computerized and electromechanical elements.
In addition to showing these works, Shemer has hosted several events to help artists learn more about 3D technologies. One speaker, Kevin Caron, has all sorts of how-to videos on his website for those eager to learn more.
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Caron credits Bill Westheimer, whose PLA plastic and USB flash drive take on Shakespeare is featured in this exhibition, with sparking his interest in all things 3D.
Additional "Materialize" works range from elegant to creepy, and the exhibition is certainly worth seeing. Only urinal-topped PEZ containers by artist Tom Burtonwood of Chicago, whose tasteful Plotting Curves pieces are featured here instead, would have upped its appeal.