3D printing the next Rodin

My personal 3D printer and I will be the next Auguste Rodin together.

After taking a course on the Personal 3D Printer (P3D) program in the final academic quarter, I have mastered the art of 3D printing, a skill only a few dedicated professionals have mastered. In fact, I once had to spend three hours aligning the print bed on my Creality Ender 3 Pro so its extruder wouldn’t spit out filament in the air! After deciding to figure out how to transfer G-code from my laptop to the machine, I am one of the great sculptors in history with this revolutionary technology.

Because I can make beautiful three-dimensional shapes on request. Without wasting time on fewer sculptors, I will prove my skills by imitating one whose work is celebrated in the center of the campus: Auguste Rodin and especially his “The Citizens of Calais”.

For the less cultural, the French city of Calais commissioned the French “father of modern sculpture” in 1895 to produce this piece as a memorial to the leaders of their city who, during the hundred years, presented themselves as sacrifices to their English besiegers. War. The result was a bit successful, you might say, with replica casts in numerous cities around the world including London, Paris, Venice, New York, Philadelphia, Tokyo and Seoul. As you will see in a moment, not so many will marvel at my masterpieces!

Because with the truly revolutionary power of 3D printing, I can make dozens of these popular “burghers” with just one click. According to art historians, the French Third Republic had a fetish for the manufacture of statues at the time of Rodin. Such “statuomania” as they call it will look like nothing when I start mass producing my pieces. To begin with, I don’t have to waste time repeating all the thoughts and efforts that Rodin put into such everyday tasks as drawing in pencil or watercolor by hand, to prepare the figures, to position them relative to one another, or their physical expressions of defiance to articulate or articulate torment. Such time-consuming inefficiencies are why it took Rodin a lifetime to create his work. On the other hand, all I have to do is pull up pre-made designs from myminifactory.com or yeggi so it takes a few short weeks for me, months at most.

And rest assured, this does not mean that my copies are of poor quality. On the contrary, thanks to the tremendous accuracy of 3D printing, I am now able to make replicas of Rodin’s works that even art historians fooled. Compared to traditional sculpting tools – hammers, chisels, and other outdated analog equipment – my printer’s 3-axis 40 × 40 aluminum extruder is accurate to within 75 microns. I doubt even Rodin’s hand was that steady; He probably couldn’t repeat his own work as well as I can! Some critics may call this mere plagiarism, but I would like to point out that Rodin himself was a kind of copycat and was inspired by Ghiberti’s “Gates of Paradise” for his famous “Gates of Hell” on his trip to Florence. (What’s behind the gate can’t make that big a difference, can it?) Rooting digital CAD files of Rodin’s work online will just be my version of such an Italian “Grand Tour”.

To get these files into physical form, my beloved 3D printer (or my printer workshop, using the proceeds from auctioning my first pieces) will produce masterpieces day and night. Loaded with a 4 gigabyte SD card on which 117.9 copies of the Burghers of Calais are stored, they are far more efficient than Rodin’s studio assistants, who would need weeks to turn his clay models into plaster molds and the final bronze cast to manufacture. Yes, I know Rodin is said to have attributed these contributions to his final product to his skilled mold makers and casters by viewing sculpture as a “collaborative” process, but I am not buying it. How annoying it must have been to rely on imperfect people with such pesky inefficiencies as lunches or weekends! That could only have slowed him down.

As mechanically accurate as 3D printing is, there will admittedly be aspects of the “citizens” that cannot be reproduced. For example, the exact angle Rodin gave the group to communicate their seemingly unstoppable trajectory towards self-sacrifice cannot be reproduced with my printer’s nozzle, which has no surface on which to extrude the filament in the air can. No matter. Either I just turn the whole group about twenty degrees so they just stand up – such details aren’t that important, are they? – or I just leave out Pierre de Wiessant’s arm. In this case, the audience only has to marvel at my piece from angles in which this small omission is not visible.

3D printing from myminifactor.com. The hand of Pierre de Wiessant on the left can’t be that important?

What my printer cannot reproduce is more than compensated for by the improvements it has achieved through so-called “generative design”. Wikipedia defines this as “an iterative design process that involves a program that generates a certain number of outputs that meet certain constraints.” The calculation result of this black box algorithm must be highly optimized and therefore superior, so that you do not have to worry about the aesthetics of the results. Just to speculate, I don’t find Pierre de Wiessant’s hand gnarled enough; I bet my optimization algorithm will twist it a bit more – how much more will be interesting to see! Or Eustache de Saint-Pierre doesn’t seem depressed enough for my taste. I bet the model will lower the abandoned expression even further. Critics will surely praise these algorithmic changes as subtle yet profound and add to the artistic value of a masterpiece without my really trying.

Pierre de Wiessant and Eustache de Saint-Pierre (Images: The Metropolitan Museum of Art “Auguste Rodin, The Citizens of Calais. A Resource for Educators”, 1999).

And now that I’ve focused my imagination on improving Rodin’s work, here’s another idea: the scope of 3D printing is growing rapidly, and it will only be a matter of time before we can print entire houses. Bigger is always better, so why not enlarge Citizens? As they are, Rodin made the six citizens a little larger than life – about two meters high – perhaps to give them an impression of gravity on the viewer. Why be so subtle, I say! In China they 3D printed an entire bridge with a length of 26.3 meters. When I get my hands on this printer, according to my calculations, I will achieve a 13.15 times greater effect on the viewer than Rodin’s originals.

As for the material, I’m going to improve on the rather boring one that Rodin limited himself to. Yes, bronze is beautiful and has been used by sculptors for over four and a half millennia, but I don’t think it’s pretty noticeable enough for today. 3D printing supply companies like Hatchbox sell an amazing variety of different colored plastic filaments. I bet a bunch of green citizens – or better yet, green, dotted ones – would be particularly elegant, wouldn’t you? Some may wonder if Rodin’s expression of the play of light and shadow on the human body can be reproduced on a plastic thread. I say just shine a brighter light on that thing! A very bright LED from my local hardware store should do the trick. Or better yet, some of Hatchbox’s newest plastic filaments even glow! And while I am thinking about materials, why am I limiting myself to just one? If you think about it, it is not at all realistic that citizens’ clothes, skin, hair, and shoes should all be the same shade. Since you can now 3D print multiple materials, I’ll print the ‘Burghers’ in multiple colors! I’m not sure how Rodin would have colored them if he had the amazing tools at his disposal, but to liven up their rather somber demeanor – they seem as sad as they are, no? – Pink with purple polka dots will do just fine.

So if I show my pieces first in the Musée Rodin in Paris and then in countless other museums, the art world will absolutely eat my work up. Sometimes even literally thanks to recent advances in 3D printable edible materials. Rodin himself, according to the art historian Antoine Bourdelle, “seemed to drink the soul of the clay while he was working”. Art critics who stop by my studio will also admire me when I bite out of my sculpted forms. I might even make ‘burgers’ out of burgers, you guessed it! How smart the critics will call me. You are more than smart and will praise me for my technological sophistication, which ushers in a new age of sculpture even more radically than Rodin.

And to reassure the few who describe my work as distasteful? Well I’ll just add salt.

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