Being able to adapt and manipulate the idea of a self-portrait in the modern age is quite an undertaking, however it is a task that seems to have been easily undertaken by Louis Pratt’s ‘Future Events’. This sculpture embodies everything that the ‘Out of Hand: Materializing the Digital’ exhibition represents, as Louis Pratt utilizes emerging technologies to effectively and uniquely relay their potential in the art world. He effectively merges the physical with the digital through his work, through a process in which he takes organic data, manipulates it digitally, and reproduces the finished result in physical form; blurring the lines between both worlds.
Pratt himself describes his process step by step on his personal website; he starts by taking 3D scan data of real people and then manipulating them with ‘digital tools’ to create something unique. This is a critical part of his process, as Pratt makes it a point to constantly use ‘organic data’ that is manipulated through algorithms and Boolean mathematics. He then creates multiple prototypes to tweak his creations exactly how he wishes, sending multiple iterations of his works back and form between the digital space and the real world. He then uses 3D printing in experimental ways to casts and materials. Pratt has also made the messages he wishes to deliver through his work very clear on the same site, stating that he “makes the point that we are at an historical point in history in terms of technology and its effects on our lives. His approach is to examine and mimic a global process in works of art. At one level he depicts our appetite for fossil fuels, while at an another he looks at our insatiable desire for the cyber world. Social issues pervade Louis’ work, he sees his art as a mirror reflecting where we are socially and historically. Sometimes the tone is reproachful but mostly his art examines the contemporary world with a sense of its beauty.” (Louis Pratt, 2017)
‘Future Events’ definitely continues the trend of Pratt’s former work as it depicts multiple scans of the artist himself in many different poses and attitudes having been melded together and produced as a 3D printed sculpture. This follows his process closely – starting with scans of organic subject (in this instance, himself); he transfers these to the digital space in which he can freely combine the images into a single being ; and then he brings the new creation back into the physical by 3d printing it. By having a physical presence in the world, this sculpture produces an aura of being otherworldly, yet familiar as it depicts a sense of motion, despite originally being static images. With this sculpture, Pratt specifically wished to provide a commentary on the multiple selves required for contemporary life. To shed light on the way that we present ourselves differently through many different facets of life, which could perhaps pertain to adjusting our personalities slightly based on a certain situation or the company we happen to be around at the time. Often you would conduct yourself differently in a workplace environment than in a casual encounter with friends, adopting a more official and composed version of yourself that masks your actual personality in an effort to stay professional in your career. Or perhaps he is highlighting the different way we present ourselves online compared to our physical presence and how two faced we can seem when protected by a screen, having his message behind his artwork that transcends the physical and digital space do the very same.
Pratt also incorporates elements of quantum computing and, by extension, the simultaneous existence of multiple quantum states. A Quantum state pertains to the states of particles and is described as a vector that contains all the information about a system. However, you can generally extract only a portion of that information from a quantum state due to both the uncertainty principle and the nature of quantum mechanics itself. An important aspect of quantum states is that although they supposedly contain all of the information about a system, you can only use them to know the probability of something to happen or the expected value of some observable. The principle of multiple quantum states existing at the same time is known as quantum superposition and it can be argued that “Future Events” presents a very abstract physical depiction of this phenomenon. This is an interesting aspect of the piece because, as a volunteer at the MAAS museum stated in his review of the ‘Out of Hand’ exhibit; it serves as “a platform to establish a dialogue with people, giving them access to the information they might think they don’t need, but actually being familiar with contemporary digital developments will empower people from any walks of life and from any cultural and linguistic background. Knowledge about often invisible scientific discoveries can engage people from other fields and create a platform for sharing ideas.” (Out of hand: “Future events” by Louis Pratt – Volunteer Insights – Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, 2017). Pratt’s ideals constantly line up with the idea of creating dialogues to inspire and by incorporating his love for algorithms into his work in this way, “Future Events” is a powerful conduit through which he can do this.
‘Future Events’ shows the potential of the technology it utilized, showcasing the many advancements that have made it a powerful tool in the contemporary art scene. The details in the sculpture are very precise, being in part due to how intricate the 3D scanning technology is. Being able to capture a human model in that much detail is no small feat, but with the technology as it is now it can be done both accurately and efficiently. 3D laser scanners capture shapes of physical objects through, as the name suggests, a line of laser light. Using this laser the scanners create “point clouds” of data based on the surface of the object it scans and creates a digital representation with the same size and shape. The description of what 3D scanning is on laserdesign.com states that “3D laser scanning is ideally suited to the measurement and inspection of contoured surfaces and complex geometries which require massive amounts of data for their accurate description and where doing this is impractical with the use of traditional measurement methods or a touch probe.” (What Is 3D Scanning | Laser Design, 2017). To further cement that this technology is the most versatile when it comes to capturing the organic shapes that Pratt utilizes in ‘Future Events’.
As a lot of the work’s mystique comes from the fact that it has a physical form and as such, it effectively highlights the progression of 3D printing technologies. Generally the process of creating a model through 3D printing begins with utilizing certain software to ‘slice’ a 3D model into multiple horizontal layers. Once this is done, the printer creates the model through an additive process by creating the model through the successive layers, either by melting or softening material. The material used differs, and can range from plastic and metal to various polymers, as well as even being able to create objects through living cells. The specific method that produces the object can also be different depending on the type of printer used. Whilst this process has many practical and industrial uses, such as creating artificial kidneys, prosthetic limbs, food and car parts, Pratt’s work showcases its more creative uses. Creating art in this form not only proves what this technology is capable of, but (following Pratt’s theme of creating dialogue through his works) question what it will be capable of in the future, and how we will be able to push our current technologies to their very limits.
By successfully presenting his work in this way, Pratt becomes a precursor for the implementation of 3D technologies in a museum space. He creates intriguing and surreal artworks using technologies that only now are starting to become more accessible, and through this helps to usher museums into a new era in which historical artefacts are able to be accurately canned and reproduces in online spaces. This future is most evident when looking into the Smithsonian X 3D project, which is an online repository that already allows you to examine animal bones, David Livingstone’s gun and Abraham Lincoln’s death mask. Pratt’s work is able to introduce new people to these technologies as they continue to emerge and showcase the many possibilities that new artists will be able to pursue with them beyond just the practical.
Although Pratt does embrace the idea of technology in his work, he is also known to be very weary of it. Through his art, he wishes to create awareness of the Orwellian idea of ‘Big Brother’ that through the introduction of so many new technologies seems to be encroaching on our society. He himself has been quoted as saying “We observe and take in technology without any resistance. We don’t understand how much of our lives are already being manipulated by algorithms.” (Meet the prints of sculpture, 2017). This, of course, refers to the idea of selective advertising and ways that data is collected through our many interactions online. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have made it so easy for our likes and interests to be collected among other personal data and utilized in such a way that can be likened to brainwashing. This information can be used to identify what type of pages you visit and products you might like and then bombard you with suggestions related to these in an effort to get you to subliminally purchase a company’s products. This links to “Future Events” idea of multiple selves, in that interactions through the internet can be easily recorded to create almost like a separate identity. A digital presence that has your likes and interests, but is separate to your physical self and only seen as an online consumer to some seemingly omniscient manipulator at the other end of a computer screen. This work can just as easily warn viewers of the dangers of technology, almost as much as it is a monument to the advancements that it provides.
Overall, “Future Events” is a piece that perfectly encapsulates everything that the “Out of Hand” exhibition is about. Pratt has successfully utilized the technology at his disposal to create unique pieces that create conversation amongst peers, art enthusiasts and everyday people alike. It is a work that is able to make multiple statements about the impact technology has on our life and the multiple personalities that we adopt as we navigate the new social elements that have been introduced alongside the internet. In doing so he has simultaneously exhibited the potential of 3D technologies in the art field and blurred the lines between organic data and digital data. His perspective of his work clearly rings true through “Future Events”, as it certainly works as a mirror reflecting where we are historically.
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