Tag Archives: design

Sculpture Planning and Biodegradable Casting Materials

I am currently planning out my upcoming show (June 2022) at The Barracks. Michelle from the Derwent Valley Arts Committee indicated that the large courtyard would make a potentially interesting site to include in the show.

This prompted me to ponder how I might create a sculptural work suitable for an outdoor environment – and whether I could re-make a version of ‘Coming to Terms with Being Forgotten’ –  but designed to disintegrate, shed nutrients and enable the growth of other plants and animals. In this way, the work could better reflect the idea of letting go and making way for what comes after.  It would also force me to be more considerate about the materials used in the construction of the work.

Svenja Kratz: Coming to Terms with Being ForgottenSvenja Kratz, Coming to Terms with Being Forgotten, 2020
Fibreglass, polyurethane, plastic, plants, insects, wax, polymer clay, clay, acrylic paint. Original sculpture exhibited at Rosny Barn (2020) and The Barracks (2021). 

This consideration prompted me to revisit the work of Australian artist Jamie North:

Jamie North - SculptureJamie North, Remainder No.4  2016
cement, blast-furnace slag, coal ash, marble waste, living Australian plants
45cm diameter. 

I like the impermanence disintegrating aesthetic and the integration of live plants into the structure.

Some of his larger works also hint at the ephemerality of all things including monuments and other markers of ‘human ingenuity’.

Jamie North SculptureJamie North, Drifting to Void, 2016
Cement, blast-furnace slag, coal ash, marble waste, steel, living Australian plants, 240 x 67 x 67cm

Jamie North’s work also connects to the ‘TerraForm’ sculptures of Robert Cannon – although I must admit that I prefer the more abstracted works.

Robert Cannon - ApolloRobert Cannon, Apollo, concrete, moss and living plants via: Design Swan

Robert Cannon UprisingRobert Cannon, Uprising, concrete, moss and living plants via: Design Swan

The work of Antony Gormley is also always interesting to consider in relation to the human figure.

In the context of this project, I think the work ‘Sense’ offers an interesting option in relation to the idea of an absent body (with the potential of filling of a void with potential growth).

Antony Gormley SenseAntony Gormley, Sense, 1991, concrete 

While concrete is one material option for producing an outdoor sculpture, I really want to find an alternative casting material that would offer better biodegradability alongside nutrient supplements for organism growth and soil improvement.

There seem to be a growing number of more sustainable materials or biodegradable materials available for casting or injection moulding including bioplastics or  Arboform, which manufacturers describe as ‘Liquid Wood’. However, a number of these products seem to be more designed for industrial and product design purposes. As such, I think this project is more suited to raw materials such as compost or a custom mix between a variety of elements (e.g. sand, rocks, compost, concrete, hay) to enable a range of durational unfoldings and both nutrients and potential habitats.

To help with some of the planning, I consulted designer (and UTAS concrete guru) Jouni Jarvela. He suggested that casting would be a good option, but it would be best to test a range of materials on a smaller scale before sizing the design up to a large-scale format. I do love me some design prototyping! 

Following our chat, I will work on a smaller ‘bust’ version which will be easier to manage than a life-size human form. In the interim, he will consider some material options for testing.

I have to say that one of the things I love about making work is seeing where things go after an initial idea is put forward. At this stage, a life-size courtyard sculpture for June seems out of the realm of possibility – however, a series of degrading self-portrait busts may be the alternative outcome. Who knows….

Nothing is ever easy…

After shadowing Jo-Maree and the students in the lab, I feel pretty confident in moving forward with some actual cell work. We are just waiting on the delivery of new cell culture media. There is a bit of a delay with some orders due to the COVID lockdowns in NSW and VIC.

I did receive my glass Petri dishes (90mm and 1500mm) to do some initial tests and had a go at laser engraving them. I usually work in Perspex, so getting the settings just right is unfortunately always a bit of trial and error.

We decided to start with the simple ‘target’ engraving which would enable us to test different engraving depths and see if the graphic should use raster for hatched areas (circles) and vector for lines.

Graphic for Laser Engraving

Graphic for laser engraving shown in Rhino 3D.

We need to leave room for the laser head to engrave so the graphic will be centred in the dish with a 25mm boundary. We also had to ensure that each element was on a separate layer with a colour indicating the particular settings for that graphic element.

We tested some basic settings:

Laser Engraving Settings

Black circle: Raster
Speed: 22
Power: 61
Red circle: Raster
Speed: 42
Power: 61
PP1: X
Green Lines: Vector
Speed: 4
Power: 85

We secured the sides with some metal rods to reduce the likelihood of movement when the air flow is turned on during the laser engraving process.

Laser Set Up
Set up in Laser  with metal bars to reduce movement. 

Laser Engraving ProcessLaser in process.

While the initial engraving seemed promising, the entire graphic was rastered including lines which were supposed to be rendered as vectors. The air flow also moved the dish. This resulted in an initial ‘glitch’ area and, following another shift, an overlaid section.

Engraving Glitch
Laser engraved dish with ‘glitch’ pattern. 

It is not too bad, but shows the importance of testing settings and set up never assuming that things will work first time around.

We used the same dish again to test different settings (with four metal bars to hold the dish in place. However,  we found that the  raster setting was the best approach after all  to ensure that the laser creates lines without punching through the glass. We still don’t quite have the settings down, but hopefully the next go will yield more promising results.

Rhino Files

I have started preparing files in Rhino for laser engraving. This is a good Youtube introduction to setting up files with a some pointers for trimming and adding a hatch for engraving surfaces rather than just lines.

This is the start of my file prep in Rhino with dark areas signalling ‘hatched’ sections for surface engraving.

Screenshot of design in Rhino

Once the Petri dishes arrive, I can make time with the CAM technician Murray Antill to organise engraving. Of course, I need to test the settings first to ensure that I use the correct strength for lines vs. engraving. I usually use Perspex, so I will likely need to adapt the settings to suit a different material. The lines may also need further spacing as the laser produces around a .5mm line.

Design prep

I purchased ten borosilicate glass Petri dishes last week in each size [1500mm and 900mm]. This will enable me to do the engraving and materials tests while I wait for ethics approval.

I am going to start with some simple designs that connect to motifs from my previous practice and signal notions of ongoing development and ‘rippling outwards’.  Screenshot of vector ripple design

Screenshot of vector ‘ripple’ design created in Adobe Illustrator.

This design was originally created for The Contamination of Alice #9 as part of the group show Ghost Biologies at Contemporary Art Tasmania in 2016. I feel that a similar pattern could work quite well engraved on the base of the Petri dishes. However, I will need to include some etched ‘shaded’ areas to see if scarring the surface helps with cell adhesion.

To create the new designs, I will try to work directly in Rhino – the software platform used for the laser cutter. Hopefully, this will enable me to create designs will fewer nodes to reduce clean up time and double lines.