MF : I have discovered your research project with 3D print glass mold and hot glass via the Hexagram's website (http://www.hexagram.ca/news/expanding-definitions-of-glassworks/). The article, « expanding the definition of glassworks », mention that your research aims is to create objects and discussions around our changing relationship to materials and work. As I have said in my precedent e-mail message, I have done and published, a study concerning contemporary creations combining "glass" and "new technologies" (“in the digital age”) and I will be glad if you accept to contribute.
The general idea was to observe what happens when glass artists choose to use digital tools (why, when, how), when artists choose to associate glass and digital technologies, or when artists, designers, engineers, craftsmen invent digital tools. We wanted to collect all it was possible to collect in terms of examples, experiences, analysis, researches in order to understand and make visible the different issues, and the different relationships with new technologies in the expanded glass creation. The aim is to contribute to broadcast informations on the subject and to participate to the debate. Obviously, the use of digital technologies raises also several questions, concerning the creation, the creators, work, production, circulation, economy, écology, ressources, etc. And your project makes me think that you are well informed of the different questions that this field raises.
May be, in a first time, you would like to say something freely concerning glass and new technologies ?
TB : Sure, well it seems unlikely at first that a skill like glassblowing which is so based on hand movements could involve a technology like 3D print which is all done through software. There are interesting ways to combine the two now particularly because 3D print has become cheaper and more accessible. I am attracted to the combination because glass presents a lot of challenges for 3D print and 3D rendering so as a material it's a bit of a new frontier.
MF : Could you tell us which digital technologies you use, and explain us why did you choose these technologies ?
TB : I use a combination of Blender 3D software, a couple of Autodesk products, Adobe Illustrator, a laser cutting machine and a number of different 3D printers. Since 3D printing in plastic or powder can be expensive, it usually ends up being very small. By combining the software I mentioned, I can export certain 3D models as pieces to be cut out in a laser cutter and assembled after at much larger scales.
MF : May be you could develop shortly the question 2 to illustrate how you use digital technologies, and describe your 3D Printed Glass Mold Research Project, your challenges, why it was important to use digital technologies ?
TB : Ok well I use Blender to do most of the 3D modelling, editing and rendering of my work. Sometimes I use a 3D scanner to get an original object to work with in Blender; I usually re-scale the object, use some sculpting tools and sometimes try to 'mess' with the object, using deformation tools in the program to get strange geometeries to happen. When I have something I like, I use Autodesk products to 'slice' the model into 2D cross-sections that can be laser cut and then assembled again after. Usually the 3D model has what we call 'non-manifold geometry' which means somewhere in its surface is a hole or an impossible shape- so you have to spend a lot of time refining it to make anything 'printable'.
The 3D mold project began as a really simple polygon shape that I stretched into a vessel. I modelled a shell around it to be a mold and then began looking for ways to 3D print a high-temperature material that would withstand the heat of glass. Most 3D printers use plastics which would burn instantly but Shapeways 3D printing company offers some metals for 3D print ( usually used for jewelry). I got the mold manufactured there in bronze and shipped to me in Montreal where I hired an assistant, Armel Desrues to help with various parts of the process. Because the cost of 3D printed bronze is a little high, I modelled the mold very thin and was worried the heat of the glass would warp. I took a risk there, but it worked beautifully.
3D print is a really complex way to make a sculpture and in a lot of ways, excessive- I suppose that's similar to my experience working in glass. I'm not sure exactly why I'm so drawn to this process or really difficult sculpture processes in general. There is something appealing about trying to master a tool - and then there's something more appealing about the mistakes along the way. Digital tools create a lot of rules or interference in the creative process so when I try to realize an idea in it, I usually end up with something else far more interesting than what I intended.
MF : What can you say about the impact of new technologies in glass creations and design today ? Do you think that new technologies can enrich the glass creation (aesthetic, artistic, formal, dimensions) ?
TB : A lot of people are exploring this now so the impact is that we have a lot of new educational programs to share and teach 3D print techniques some of them at glass schools, like Pilchuck Glass School in Washington State. There is a new generation of glass artists who will start with this as part of their formative education. I think these new technologies offer the same opportunities that all the historical glass techniques did before. They can be fascinating and they can help you see glass in different ways but they don't enrich glasswork automatically of course. What is fairly unique now is that once you have conceived a glass idea and modelled it in 3D software to print, you now have so many other materials you can print that object with instead and glass presents so many barriers to production, you have to question why use it. It might encourage artists who traditionally just made glass to expand into other materials.
MF : Which are the limits in the use of digital technologies in glass art today ?
TB : These limits are changing every month now it seems. As recently as last year, the kind of 3D glass prints you would hear about were more like ceramic in look and feel, they were more opaque and frosted on the surface. This year has seen a few developments in hot glass extruders laying down coils of glass and building forms up the way plastic 'fused deposition modelling' printers have for a long time. I'm sure we'll see this kind of printing become more and more accurate. There are cheaper and more accessible ways to push these limits with glass and 3D Print though, particularly by printing in plastic and casting forms you can blow into or kiln cast into. I would say the limits get pushed more as the technologies open up to the masses and become cheaper- its part of why we see so much news about 3D print now. Its way easier to get into than it was even 5 years ago.
MF : The use of new technologies should be accompanied by critical reflection on new technologies themselves in social, political, ecological, economic, terms ?
TB : Yeah there are a lot of big issues in that question. 3D print holds a kind of optimism in it, that by doing additive manufacturing (3D print), we will waste less in production than more traditional subtractive manufacturing ( cutting the product you want out of material and throwing away the excess). Also some of the 3D print plastics are meant to be biodegradable but its hard to say if we're really helping the environment with it. There's a lot of buzz about 3D print being used in medical devices and prosthetics at cheaper rates for disadvantaged people as well which speaks to some of the socio-political aspects of it. The popular debate around 3D printed guns has made us look at 3D print as a weapon and there are some interesting legal rules to establish now for that. 3D print seems to be showing up in almost every field and has the same kind of promise but there's a lot of development still to come before 3D print is actually as cheap, easy and durable as we need it to be. Because of that, its effect on culture is kind of slowly creeping in to daily life; similar, I think, to how cell phones did for better or worse.
MF : May be could you give us some relevant examples of artists, works or experiments ?
TB : In looking at the effects of digital technologies on daily life, I have been very influenced by Hito Steyerl's ' The Wretched of the Screen' text (available on e-Flux) as well as her video work 'Liquidity Inc.'. The New Museum in New York hosted the 2015 Triennale called 'Surround Audience' which involves a number of interesting artists commenting on digital technology and its relationship to art and culture. I'm sure you've heard of MIT's Mediated Matter Group and their 3D glass printer- its pretty central to this topic.
Image : Timothy Belliveau, Mold Process.