‘I can’t describe it, what I’m feeling and what I’m thinking, this means something! This is important’ are the words of Roy Neary played by the actor Richard Dreyfuss in the 1977 science fiction film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In the film Neary is depicted as an adult who never really grew up, a character that gradually becomes obsessed about an image in his mind – followed by the ensuing need to externalise his vision. More specifically this sweeping analysis of the film refers to the the bit that I am interested in.
Form Follows Fiction
Although the actions of Roy Neary in the ‘mash potato scene’ are largely induced by his previous alien encounter in the film, his child like conduct and obsessive behaviour provide the first segue in to what appears to becoming a series of art works (Stretch out with your feelings & Ray Kinsella) that embrace the theme of Form Follows Fiction. Here the obsessive and compulsive nature (and sometimes child like) provide a parallel with the artist and designer, individuals that can embody a similar preoccupied disposition – often attributed to the single minded pursuit. Other ‘artistic’ segue include; technologically enabled ‘remakes’ and a continuing fascination with objects that initiate oscillations between fiction and reality.
I was originally interested in developing a series of drawings for this project by using Google Earth as my point of reference and vantage point. The outcome would be to continuously produce multiple drawn copies of Devils Tower. The continuous re-drawing of the tower would eventually result in the image becoming fixed in my mind – a subtle nod to the plight of Roy Neary. I would therefore be able to recall and draw its image at will, continuously recreating Devil’s Tower in multiple form. The idea would be to explore today’s situation where the body is no longer the dominant measure of space. Instead it is digital technology that dictates how we see and experience the world – affording a new mediated measuring stick. I may still undertake this approach although I would need to carry over some further facet of the Google Earth program – in order for the work to mean something, something important.
Anyway, some months after this initial thought I was speaking with a friend who mentioned that he was thinking about 3D printing a trek that he had recently walked in the USA. To cut a long story a bit shorter I researched the 3D capture and print possibilities for landscapes and found an online company called Terrainator. The company use an algorithm to extract the topographical data from Google Earth and extrude this information to create a three dimensional file. The generated 3D data is exportable to the print on demand company Shapeways who specialise in 3D printing. Alternatively you can purchase the 3D file and print it yourself – much cheaper. Above are two views of the topographical render created by Terrainator for the national monument Devils Tower in Wyoming, United States.
The 3D image file that was produced by Terrainator wasn’t quite what I was expecting. This was mainly due to the fact that the top of the tower wasn’t flat – like it is in the Google Earth image or in reality, and more importantly like it is in the film!
Once in possession of the 3D file (and to initiate the Form Follows Fiction theme) it seemed only logical that the physical rendering of the data should remain true to my filmic reference, that being mash potato. Whilst I say mash potato I really mean the instant mash potato brand Smash. Smash / mash potato is not one of the more common material’s used in the 3D printing world and I therefore had to access a more novel approach to printing. Luckily two of my colleagues at the CFPR Peter Walters and David Huson had had some previous experience printing with Smash and designing bespoke extrusion systems for the process.
Interestingly the printing process allowed me to recover the flat summit of Devils Tower, the bit that had been lost in the 3D generation of the file. This achievement was not so much an insightful bit of software manipulation or a crafted adjustment to the hardware. Instead it was accomplished by the timely pressing of the pause button, about a minute from the end of the print. The printing of the mash potato tower also included a fixing agent in the Smash and water mix. This helped the structure retain its shape whilst drying. The previous 100% Smash and water mix had resulted in the structure slumping after an hour or so. The resulting prints conjured visions of printed objects by the Biltong creature in Philip K Dick’s 1955 dystopian novel ‘Pay for the Printer‘. In the novel the Biltong is an alien that serves humankind by duplicating everyday objects but over time the Biltong’s have become exhausted, to the point of extinction – and are no longer able to produce accurate copies. The quality of these inferior objects degrade each time they are replicated to the point where nothing has any longevity, buildings are collapsing in on themselves and newspapers become nothing more than a mishmash of meaningless words. The loss of function is described as ‘puddinged’, an adjective articulated in the novel where several copies later a Swiss watch has become nothing more than a piece of misshapen metal. Mmmm ‘puddinged’.
That said the new addition of the binding agent still has a few structural integrity problems but it was good enough to produce a 3D print that could be photographically recorded for the Annual Miniature print show at the Arnolfini. Unlike the scale of the 3D printed Devils Tower artwork Beautiful Minds (2017) by the artist Anya Gallaccio my 3D printed mash potato version has an altitude of 14cm and is now located in my desk draw waiting for further developments of the idea.
Big thanks to Peter Walters and Dave Huson for allowing me to print on their machine and with their assistance.