Digitally Imprinting Craftsmanship: An Emotional Link Between Functional Design and Sculpture

Presented by: Felicia Dean

During the summer of 2015 I attended a sculpture residency in Italy.  The purpose of the residency was to investigate how my previous experimental processes of furniture making could be extended to sculpture.  

Conceptual Formulation
My intent for the work I created during the residency was to blur the associations users have of art, design, and craft through the application of material experimentation and digital fabrication.  My approach investigated whether or not the sewn fabric abstractions used in my previous work transferred to marble sculpture through the use of 3D scanning and a 7-axis robotic arm. Additionally my work informed my previous and future furniture design research of the potential for the fabric manipulation techniques to act as a communicator from the maker to the viewer/user.  

Idea Generation 
Over the past 5 yrs I have created a body of work that transforms the definition of upholstery and the application of textiles to furniture into a contemporary design approach.  My research has investigated the possibility of generating three-dimensional forms and surfaces for upholstered furnishings by incorporating surface relief construction methods from fashion design sewing and patterning techniques. These apparel design approaches are referred to as fabric manipulation techniques.  The fabric manipulation techniques allow for textiles to be constructed into undulated and organic topographical surfaces. My treatment of the applications positioned upholstery fabrication beyond a two-dimensional manufacturing procedure by exploring its potential as a design element and artistic process.  The result has been a collection of work that embodies both functional and sculptural form.
The inspiration for my previous works developed from my process driven design approach merged with material experimentation.  For the work, I sought to include my past process research while identifying a personal connection to the idea and form generation.   I combined my experimental research of materials and sewing fabric manipulation techniques with inspiration I received from the geometry of a Blue Hole, located in Long Island, Bahamas.  The paternal side of my family is connected to the land, as it was named after the family in Long Island, Bahamas.  This natural wonder inspired not only the final sculpture’s form but opened my eyes to my family’s history.

Creation Process
My research started with adapting previous hand sewn fashion abstraction techniques to a smaller scale form which was inspired by the geometry of the Blue Hole. This resulted in an undulated formed textile surface treatment which was 3D scanned in order to transfer the handmade form into a digital file format. The scanned textile form was merged with a digitally crafted 3D model of the simplified geometry of the Blue Hole. The final digital file was emailed to the engineer at the residency to begin the stone carving process with the 7-axis robotic arm.  Before my arrival to the residency, a rough cut enlarged version of my sculpture was completed by interfacing my 3D digital file with the machinery. The robotic arm drilled marble out of the stone block by positioning itself at various angles. Once I arrived at residency I hand carved and hand sanded smooth the rough surface cuts left on the sculpture by the robotic arm’s milling process. 

Method Used
The methods of making used for the work included both digital and handmade ways of making.  A fabric pouch that had a sewn fabric manipulation technique was foam injected.  This fabric foam object was scanned and merged with additional digital geometry using Rhinoceros.  The final sculpture was created from rough milling the form out with a 7-axis robotic arm, a bit of sanding with pneumatic tools and a month of sanding by hand.

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