This was a comment made by Prof Stephen Farthing on 20th April after seeing my work and having explained my ‘touching a naked female sculpture’ dilemma.
I described the views of my course tutor and fellow students (at Mid Point Review on 15 Mar) and my presentations to our visiting artists (Kaora Homma on 18 Feb, and Rosie Sherwood on 1 Mar). These were largely skeptical except for a minority of my fellow students and Rosie Sherwood, and of course Stephen who at our previous meeting suggested that a nude sculpture would work better than a painting for my touch narrative exhibit.
He did however suggest some compromises to accommodate the view of my tutor (“Terry, you just cannot do this!”). Stephen’s idea was to invite the viewer to touch the head of the sculpture or possibly its shadow. I remarked that he probably didn’t realise just how difficult this was to achieve. But I said that I would have a go. He also suggested, using a theatrical analogy, that whilst I had a character and a script I did not have a performance. He gave examples of a stage set putting my sculpture at the end of Borromini’s collonade, a false perspective to make the sculpture look life size (see below), and lighting or both.
So this is what I did:
Firstly, I could not isolate touching the head of my fully assembled life sculpture without painting all of it, which I did not want to do. We had agreed that the texture of the 3D printed material was very attractive and that it would be a shame to paint it.
A second 3D print of the bust (£200 later at Digital Fabrication, CSM) was used to paint conductive material on the inside underneath the model’s hair. But sadly the touch narrative did not work through the 3 to 5mm thick plaster. So I had to resort to learning how to change the Arduino programming of the Bare Conductive Touch Board. Shock horror! This was something I had tried to avoid at all costs and the reason I chose the pre-programmed Touch Board in the first place rather than an Arduino proper.
I had a few lessons from Grzesiek Sedek, Digital Media, UAL Wimbledon. And hey presto, I did it. And he did not do it for me! So I have learned another really useful skill. I downloaded a Sketch for the Touch Board that changed its function from a touch to a proximity sensor, and changed a parameter. to make the narrative turn off instead of keep going regardless. At the maximum setting, you can now hover your hand just above the head of the bust to trigger a narrative. And do it again to stop it. But only one narrative! So I had to download another Sketch to play random narratives and figure out how to make this a proximity sensor too. This is real coding as it it is not a standard Sketch. I had to cobble together two sketches. It took some time to get a working program. But I did this too, on my own at home, and much to my own amazement downloaded it to my Touch Board and it worked.
I can now also apply this approach to the base of the fully assembled sculpture. And to my other ongoing project – a bronze casting of the bust. This takes ages and ages and ages. I did not realise just how many steps and how long this would take.
Two months later and I am ready to embed my sculpture in Grog! (a mix of plaster and already fired ground ceramic) ready for firing and melting the wax in order to be able to fill the mold with molten Bronze. Then I have to hack off the pipes, and repair the bronze. I will let you know how that goes.
The bronze sculpture is entirely conductive so to trigger random narratives you can touch ANYWHERE.
A few more technical steps needed to be worked out and resolved. Firstly how to power the Touch Board without connecting it to my laptop or to mains electricity. Secondly how to transmit (blue-tooth) the sound (narratives) to an external sound system. I won’t go into this but job done.
Now on to the performance.
I got in touch with Alex May who gave me a few pointers how I might use Projection Mapping to create Borromini’s collonade false perspective without having to construct the arches. i.e to project them on to perspex sheets for example. Sounds hard. But I did put the first picture above together to see the effect.
I also investigated lighting within a plinth (or three).
That’s it so far. I think this will be my final year project. I have lots more to reflect on.
But I have made a decision. For the end of this academic year MA show where the first year students have a small space I will only show my triptych+ canvass – which I have yet to mount on the stretchers I have already acquired. This will be 2-3m long and 1m tall. I will not attempt to activate Vanessa’s narratives.
But I have agreed to work with Sharon on a joint exhibit. This will be or include a slip cast of the bust of Vanessa in ceramic, painted entirely in black in conductive paint, glazed and sound enabled with Sharon’s narrative. That is if the conductive paint and glaze combination survives firing. Hopefully it will.