Earlier in the summer at The Center for Lost Arts I started working in earnest on a project that had been percolating for some time. One of my main research interests is 3D scanning and the resulting outcomes from these scans whether fabricated as objects, represented on the screen of part of an interactive environment.
Like a regular photograph these most 3D scanners only really capture the surface of a scene, object or person. They do not record internal geometry, mechanisms and so forth. As such we’re not really able to capture the thing itself – such as an engine or anatomy but the surface representation of that thing. More expensive and less portable scans can be done with MRI or CT derived data but that’s hardly something we can haul around a museum or just whip out on the street corner.
So the analogy to photography is i think a strong one. In May this year my friend Fred Kahl spoke about his research interests in 3D scanning and Coney Island at Makerfaire in San Mateo. He talks about his scans / scanning as “Physical Photography.” I think this is a good placeholder. I’m not sure it really captures the essence of what we are doing with this type of activity but i think it is a lot closer than calling the objects “scans” or “prints.” The “scan” is much more like a negative or Raw file. The “print” is *a method* for fabricating something but not *the method.*
Wheres a photograph often captures a moment in time, freezing and archiving it. A 3D scan removes an object from time, extracting an object or scene from it’s surroundings / context and places it in a liminal zone that is neither here nor there. A skilled 3D modeler might revisit the scan and add in the appropriate specular adornments, bump maps and displacements to make the on screen version seem true to life. But the fabricated version, even if printed in full color, is rarely going to be an exact facsimile of the original. It is going to be, like a photograph, a representation of it – mediated and abstracted. For me there is something very poetical about demising these objects from their surroundings and placing them into new virtual and real spaces.
I think it was towards the end of 2014 when I began scanning chairs. We were staying at a hotel in Helsinki airport before flying back to the UK. I determined that I would scan the furniture in the room as an added bonus / souvenir of our stay. For this series of work i have predominantly been using the Structure scanner, an IR hardware add on to iOS devices. The Structure is not the most accurate scanner I have ever used – but it does a great job scanning underneath objects, scanning with tight meshes, and capturing people sized objects fairly well. It’s size means that it is super portable and I can carry it around with me wherever i go. The Structure seems to do chairs really well. I suppose the size is part of it. But I think it’s also about the recognizability of a chair, and different styles of chairs – that makes this project fairly fascinating for me. If all i can capture is surface, and all i have to capture it with is the equivalent of a Polaroid or BW camera then let’s work from something iconic and easy to communicate. There’s no question these are chairs. So it’s chair.
I’m not really entirely sure where this is going. I have scanned maybe 30 – 40 chairs at this point. I really like the idea of collecting or borrowing the furniture. It would be impossible to store or carry around all of these items in real life – but in this digital format it’s fairly straightforward. Fabricating them – at scale is important to me, as is developing some kind of app to see them in a virtual space. The chair from The Center for Lost Arts is a standard fold up Ikea chair. I think Charles was a bit bemused why I would use this $350 scanner to copy a $10 chair – that when fabricated would be utterly useless – as proven by a houseguest who recently tried to sit on it causing it to rapidly and significantly delaminate. But as with a lot of art the uselessness is a function not a failing.