Cosmo Wenman looked to design a massive 3D collage of a set of iconic forms, from an ancient Greek statue to a rendering of the space station, for artist Samson Young. With only three months to complete the project, he wouldn’t be able to carve the piece from marble — much less clad it in antiqued bronze — in time. Read on to learn how he used Shapeways to realize a grand project for a legendary art fair, and how you can print a piece of the exhibition.
At the top of the legendary Daru staircase in the Louvre stands Winged Victory, or the Nike of Samothrace, a Greek sculpture dating from around 190 BCE.
In the center of the Hong Kong Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale, there was also a Winged Victory. This one, however, was made of 3D printed nylon, and it seems… pretty defeated. Instead of standing triumphant, she lays burdened and fragmented, with busts of Pythagoras and Ronald Reagan — not to mention a space station — emerging from her body.
What does it all mean? This dramatic and slightly unsettling piece is part of sound artist Samson Young‘s exhibit, “Songs for Disaster Relief.” Young looks to deconstruct the idea of charity pop singles like 1985’s “We Are the World,” critiquing the whole idea of “saving the world with music.” Young filled the exhibit with installations that reflect the cultural and political circumstances that gave rise to these songs in the first place. “Palazzo Gundane (homage to the mythmaker who fell to earth),” the title of the altered Nike of Samothrace, takes aim at Western culture’s lofty ideals and idols, from classic statuary and philosophy to Ronald Reagan and the idealistic international space station.
What might be less apparent than the meaning of the piece is the fact that the sculpture, partially 3D designed by Cosmo Wenman, was entirely 3D printed at Shapeways.
Wenman, a multimedia artist and 3D fabrication consultant, contributed elements of the design. He began by 3D scanning the plaster cast of the Nike of Samothrace made by the Louvre’s atelier. You can order a 3D print of his final model of the classical sculpture in his Shapeways Shop. In his own words, Wenman “took hundreds of carefully staged photos of Victory and used Autodesk’s ReCap Photo photogrammetry software to process them into this high-quality 3D model.” The overall design was conceived by Young and executed by a team of 3D modelers. Wenman explained, “Young hired his own 3D modelers to digitally design the additional elements — the heads, the space station — and to remix them with my Winged Victory scan, per Young’s concept. I was a design consultant… selecting the best 3D printing solution, and making sure the design was on course for being 3D printable.”
When the Winged Victory base had been digitally combined with the other elements, Wenman took charge of preparing the design for printing, “digitally cutting it into a hollow shell, with interlocking segments, connected along hidden joints with internal flanges,” and making sure that each piece would “conform to Shapeways’ nylon printer specs, including sizing and orienting the pieces to be as large as possible while still fitting within the printers’ build volumes,” he told us. The sculpture was printed in Shapeways’ White Strong & Flexible nylon plastic. Wenman then finished the piece with patinated bronze for the green and copper blended surface, creating the impression of a heavy, monumental work of art.
The designer outlined his process below:
Despite the ancient and recent histories of the sculpture’s subjects, the ability to print and finish them with such precision and speed (it took Wenman 60 days to complete the entire process) is a contemporary feat. 3D printing is an excellent way to create large sculptures that are not nearly as fragile or heavy as traditional materials like ceramics and marble. But, arguably its biggest advantage for artists and designers is its efficiency. Artists are able to rapidly create multiple prototypes, and plan the final piece knowing exactly how it will turn out.
3D printed sculptures also open the possibility of various materials and finishes, none of which requires the artist to be an expert in the manufacturing and sculpting techniques of traditional materials. The oxidized bronze finish Wenman used, for instance, mimics the appearance of sculptures that have either turned green by intention or due to lack of care, as it takes anywhere from 5-20 years for bronze to oxidize.
Many working contemporary artists are not trained in 3D modeling or printing, which leads to increasing collaboration between artists and 3D designers, as is the case with Young and Wenman. And the roles are by no means independent of one another; Veronika Schmid is an excellent example of a designer who works with artists like Frank Stella to 3D model and print sculptures. In fact, the merging of these roles impacts not only the use of 3D printing, but also the expressive limits of art.
As part of the exhibit, Young will make the design files public. If you so desire, you can indeed have your very own recumbent Winged Victory adorned with Reagan, Pythagoras, and a space station, in whatever size, color, or material you choose. If that isn’t your style, Wenman has uploaded the original 3D scans of the Nike of Samothrace plaster on Thingiverse in addition to the prints in various sizes available in his Shapeways Shop.
This isn’t a one-off project for Wenman, either. Through a Scanner is the designer’s project dedicated to publishing free online 3D scans of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures. He is also attempting to reach out and convince museums, who already use 3D scanning as an archiving method, to release their files online to the public. Wenman is among a growing cohort of artists promoting this shift of authorship and ownership over art, as the use of 3D printing helps to reach those who previously had no means of accessing or owning art. Some traditional institutions are slow to embrace such change, while others welcome it (see our recent collaboration with the Danish National Gallery). Young and Wenman push us to reconsider the possibilities of such collaborations — and new methods of archiving history to allow for new interpretations.
Read more about “Songs of Disaster Relief” and Young’s work process here. And, if you’re an artist or designer using 3D printing, make sure to let us know in the comments.