ThreeForm is a material research project that aims to exploit tactile expectations, deliberately creating a sensory, disjunction between what we think we see and what we touch. It engages the maker and audience (a viewer or user) in a discourse that explores sensory perception, how we engage with our physical and digital worlds, and the alienation that arises as a result of the dominance of visual representation.
By investigating this research through an artistic practice, it acknowledges the capacity of a maker to exploit a user’s previous associations with materials, objects or environments to shape and direct perception, both digitally and physically.
The material research aspect of ThreeForm was carried out in three phases, each framing a different modality that contributes to our perception of an object; vision, tactility and context.
Phase One - Engaging Sight
Phase One (P1) investigated the translation of a soft material into a digitally affected, solid form by scanning and reproducing it using an additive manufacturing process (3D printing). The aim of this phase was to visually mimic the physical properties of an object’s materiality in a contrasting medium.
P1 is a continuation of practical research undertaken in a previous project, Together Apart (2016), that attempted to ‘bring together senses that the digital separates’. Foam was selected as the subject to scan, due to it’s affinity with more solid materials such as concrete – both of these materials begin as liquids, are poured to be formed into shape, and can be porous in texture, as a result of air bubbles trapped in liquid. Although these materials are similar visually, their materiality is a direct contrast between hard and soft – where concrete is fixed when cured, foam’s springy yet resilient form can be manipulated into shape. The sculptural form explored in P1 captures a sense of energy and movement that would be impossible to create with a solid object in the same way.
Phase Two - Engaging Touch
When manipulating clay, marks and indentations of being handled remain visible on the surface – Phase Two (P2) sought to capture human impressions by visualising physical gestures. Three clay sculptures were scanned and printed to determine whether a digital process would maintain the perception of being hand-made, despite having been manufactured by a machine.
The final objects retained the evidence of being hand-formed, but when examined closely the layers of the print easily distinguish it as machine-made. The soft shapes and hand-shaped forms anticipate and invite being touched and handled, which are not generally equated with objects that have been printed in plastic. P2 engages an audience to experience the objects with their sense of touch by creating objects that require closer inspection to be understood.
Phase Three - Engaging Context
Phase Three (P3) asks, does our ability to visually identify a material improve or worsen when it’s placed alongside others? It acknowledges that most of the audience viewing this project will be seeing it through a screen, and aims to create a material context through the comparison of three forms made from five different materials.
The forms of these objects is deliberately ambiguous, as is the way in which they’re photographed, making their surface materials the only sensory information available as the basis for forming a perceptual object. In creating a visual environment where the attribution of materiality has to be more carefully considered, P3 prevents the audience from making immediate material assumptions.