Digital Artist Sees Future In “Sampling” And Remixing Objects
Today a group of artists with a knack for taking things from the digital world into the physical world will spend some time first doing the opposite: looking at real physical objects and capturing them with cameras and software and making them become digital. It’s that digital space where the new shaping and changing may take place.
Last month, I had a chance to ask some questions of another great artist, who is not part of today’s event but who has certainly thought a lot about this type of art.
Matthew Plummer-Fernandez likes to think in terms of “sampling”. This concept is familiar to us in music, where one bit of a song might be pulled out and repeated with a new beat underneath. This is a mixing of familiar stuff and new stuff, which is what Matthew sees in some of his work, like this tea set.
It’s based off a blue vase he found in a flea market once, seen below. I just grabbed a still image off my screen, but you can see the actual model on hypr3D.com. That site provides a free scanning service that allows someone to upload some digital photos of an object and convert them into a 3D mesh with a texture file. Matthew says the process is done within minutes, and he’s had good success with it. Hypr3D was a handy preservation tool in this case: he had dropped the vase and broken it, so creating this mesh was a way of keeping it around.
Using this model of the original vase as a starting point, Matthew ran a few algorithms that he developed at the generatorx 3.0 workshop led by Marius Watz at iMal in Brussels. He created a “complete parametric 3D environment in Processing where I can subject my scans to different algorithms and see the results in real-time. One algorithm scales it up wider at the top to make it more cupped. The sharp edges appear after algorithmically twisting the mesh, forcing each face to squeeze between vertexes.” He points out that he uses a low-poly count for the sake of a smaller file size, but that this also gives his object a “visually more complex appearance. … Design is conventionally material efficient and frugal; I like how low-polyness is the digital equivalent of that.”
In taking an object and “sampling” it, Matthew likes to work with fairly simple algorithms, like scaling, twisting, cropping and smoothing, “as the effect of the algorithm is easy to read and communicate to others.” You can see an example of this process in the video, where he manipulates a scan of a milk jug by combining those processes.
Here are Matthew’s thoughts on sampling, in his own words. There are links below for you to find out more about this digital artist. If you own a MakerBot, reach out to Matthew, who says he welcomes volunteers to bring his digital files to life.
How would you handle attribution for a work of art that you wanted to sample, or do your ideas of sampling always take the original work as only a jumping off point from which you make something totally unrecognizable?
I go to car boot sales and flea markets quite often, and look at countless objects from the past. It seems counter-intuitive to deny ourselves the right to take object data from these as starting points for new objects. For me its not a process of imitation but of translation. Just be scanning it, it is already something else. As Borges said “the original is unfaithful to the translation” meaning translating can have different and improved outcomes. It is evolutionary. It also resembles the way we personally develop out of past experiences. Passing on starting points is very important to human development. In music, sampling sections from other songs was considered controversial and radical but led to a whole new approach to music with highly original results. It democratised music making to music lovers who weren’t necessarily trained in playing instruments or reading music. I see the same thing happening with design. Object lovers will be able to design highly original works without formal training in drawing, modelling and other specialist skills. They will simply ‘sample’ things they like using a camera and remix them into new objects using easy open-source software.
Do you think there’s a way to further the sampling metaphor and have one element of an overall piece that is so recognizable from another object, but still “remixed” to look original? This is very obvious in music, but I’m wondering if it transcends to 3D objects.
I think object sampling needs development and the concept of ‘remixing’ objects awaits different solutions. For example I’d like to be able to retain certain features whilst distorting others, so that the result is a mix of the familiar with the unfamiliar. The key is in achieving that balance of familiar to unfamiliar; a recognisable shape will trigger a memory, the unfamiliar will trigger your imagination. I think this is important if digital artifacts are to gain acceptance from a wider audience whom might feel alienated by the more abstract, mathematical objects that are becoming standard territory in 3D printing circles. If 3D printing is going to start a revolution it needs to be able to inspire people without scaring them off. The appeal of sampling in music was that it was an open invitation to both innovate and bring along your own personal favourite sounds.
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