3D Printing

Zen Surrealism — 3D Printed Art by Kevin Mack

From deep within the recesses of his mind, artist Kevin Mack generates fluid, intertwined shapes.  As you move your eyes from each Laser Sintered (LS) sculpture to the next, a funny thought might occur to you: these pieces almost capture the process of 3D printing itself.  I know that he’s probably aiming for something more profound, but what I mean is that, in that space between the representative world of digital bits and the tangible world of physical objects, I can see Mack’s sculptures – these digital formations, thoughts and ideas striving to become physical things, willing themselves into being.

[nggallery id=84]

You might wonder how he achieves this effect. Mack uses a combination of rules and free-form generation to make objects that both maintain and break away from structure. For instance, in his piece “Standing Mind Over Matter”, the artist relied on implicit surfaces for his inspiration. I still don’t really understand what an implicit surface is, but I think my intuition might. This passage from mathinsight.org seemed to help:

We can also graph equations in terms of three variables, say x, y, and z. Sometimes, we can solve the equation explicitly in terms of z and write it as z=f(x,y). In this case, we’ve reduced the problem to the graph of a scalar-function of two variables, which is a surface.

On the other hand, we cannot solve an equation like x2+y2+z2=1 explicitly for z. Even so, the equation still implicitly defines a surface. The surface, i.e., the graph of the equation, is the set of points (x,y,z) that satisfy x2+y2+z2=1. These points form a sphere of radius one centered at the origin.

A spherical implicit surface. The graph of the equation x2+y2+z2=1 is the unit sphere centered at the origin.

An implicit surface seems to be any shape defined by the possible solutions to a mathematical formula. So, in the case of the artwork, Mack explains that, “the sculpture was created from constrained random implicit surfaces and procedurally derived structures. These were distorted with turbulent noise prior to direct sculpting and manual manipulation.” This movement between rigidly defined rules (the mathematical formula) and randomness reminds me of something that the philosopher Alan Watts said about the structure of the Universe in The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are:

I have sometimes thought that all philosophical disputes could be reduced to an argument between the partisans of “prickles” and the partisans of “goo.”  The prickly people are tough-minded, rigorous, and precise, and like to stress differences and divisions between things.  They prefer particles to waves, and discontinuity to continuity.  The gooey people are tender-minded romanticists who love wide generalizations and grand syntheses.  They stress the underlying unities, and are inclined to pantheism and mysticism.  Waves suit them much better than particles as the ultimate constituents of matter, and discontinuities jar their teeth like a compressed-air drill…There are no prickles without goo, and no goo without prickles.

The artists work seems to express this relationship between goo and prickles in the way the Universe operates. Mack admits that he is inspired by philosophy, spirituality, science, and nature and it’s quite evident in his work and the descriptions of his work. Take his description for “Nothing Contained”, which “is a wall mounted void containment device. Nothingness is divided and separated from itself in complex ways by the many containment compartments, thus rendering it safe for observation and contemplation.” Perhaps it is this zen-like thinking that allows his pieces to defy interpretation and, almost, perception.

If you’re curious about where you might have seen Mack’s work before, you’ll notice similarities to his 3D-printed sculptures in the film What Dreams May Come, for which he created some of the best surrealist backdrops in any movie I’ve seen.  Or, if you work at CERN, you may have seen some visualizations he did of particle physics.

His work will be displayed at the PS Zask Gallery in Rolling Hills Estates, California (outside LA) from May 11 to June 26, so, if you’re in the area like me, you should check it out.