Last Semester, I began a Digital Artefact called Lazy Susan Studio. It was through my involvement with the UOW Makerspace that I was introduced to laser cutting, and I began experimenting with a tool, and software, that I previously had little knowledge of. Research undertaken in related university subjects at the time initiated me to explore the sustainable culture of university students, particularly in the area of Wollongong. This prompted me to experiment with a sustainable jewellery line, with products and gifts made entirely from repurposed and recycled wood that would normally end up in the bin. The online store has expanded to multiple media platforms and is a creative outlet and hobby that has been both insightful and profitable.
In previous semesters, I have used these tools and processes to create an artefact with a tangible, product based outcome, with not so much focus on creative process but more on the creation of a product to be sold. This semester in MEDA301 I have been expanding my already existing skills by pushing the use of the laser cutter beyond what I am accustomed to. That is, looking at ways the laser cutter can be used to create artistic pieces with a conceptual message, as well as the variation in materials that might be used in this process.
Laser cutting has had an interesting history, however its use for artistic purposes is something that is rather new and unexplored. The first laser cutter dated back to 1960, and at the time was described as “a solution looking for a problem” (spilasers.com, 2018). It was only over time that the enormous diversity and potential of this technology became apparent. By 1965, laser cutters were being used for cutting and drilling in diamond mines, and the process of cutting with lasers was adopted on a much wider scale by the British in 1967. Around the early 70’s, laser cutters began to be used for cutting through various materials including metal, which was something previous carbon dioxide lasers originally hadn’t been capable of. By the time of the 1980s, there were roughly 20,000 commercial laser cutting machines in commercial existence, which amounted to a value of around $7.5 billion (spilasers.com, 2018). Professor William Steen also wrote that “since the invention of the laser, we have entered into a new industrial revolution” (2011).
The artistic use of the laser cutter, however, has been a source of great inspiration for this project. One such artist, Gabrial Schama, has been fundamental in my research and an inspiration for this semester. Working within the medium of plywood, Schama creates intricate designs working in multiple layers with the laser cutter. As he explains, “the formal qualities of my artwork tend to emerge from the particularities and structural limitations of layered plywood and paper” (Schama, 2016). Originally working with layered paper, Schama describes that he “worked simply for the experience of pushing up against the boundaries of what seemed possible within the simple set of rules from which all my cut paper work flowed: cut, glue, stack, repeat, until finished”(Schama, 2016). Shama clarifies that his work is more of an aesthetic purpose rather than a conceptual one, yet he feels as though is a kind of homage to the “ancient, continuous line of craftsmen, who have adorned the fabrics and structures of civilisation for thousands of years”(Schama, 2016).
Another element of my practice observed through research is the fascinating nature of this medium in terms of accessibility to designs through the internet. Maxime Beauchemin is another artist who pushes the possibilities of the laser cutter to a place that has previously been unexplored. Beauchemin works a lot with capturing the textures of nature, for example in this piece which is simply called “Laser Cut Leaf Skeleton”. What I find fascinating is unique the way in which emergent, and uncharted, technologies are shaping the future of art and its share-ability. One example is “Thingiverse”, an online platform where creators can publicly post their design files to be then downloaded and recreated by any user. Beauchenmin’s profile enables anyone to download the blueprint of his pieces and cut their own copy.
As such, it is interesting to then consider who is the true artist in this sense. In a similar notion, Sol LeWitt also used his own intellect to create a list of instructions which were then performed by the participants in order to create an artwork. He writes that “when an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art” (LeWitt, 1967). The online accessibility of laser cutting files I believe pushes this notion to a new place with a whole emergent set of questions about the true role of an artist in comparison with a maker.
Secondly, Beauchenmin’s connection with nature is what has more heavily influenced my research for this project. This particular leaf design encouraged me to contemplate ways the laser cutter can be used to cut materials beyond what is traditionally accomplished. Over the past couple of weeks, I have been challenging myself to explore new mediums by laser cutting into leaves, producing a very unique result. Certainly, I have faced some challenges during this process, with the main one being that the leaves sometimes move about inside the machine as the fume extraction fan creates a windy environment. Another challenge is with the use of auto focus during cutting, making it difficult to cut a cohesive design when the leaf is not completely flat, as most have some kind of warping on their surface.
The interesting silhouette aesthetic created through this process has encouraged me to consider ways I can convert this into an installation with a more conceptual meaning. For this project, I have thought about somehow suspending these cut-out designs to then have a moving image projected onto the surface of the leaf, with a shadow then created on the wall behind in the silhouette of the shape which is removed. Conceptually, this is something I wish to explore further in the coming weeks. I feel as though I have established a medium and a procedure which is unique and malleable, and now I am challenged with exploring a deeper conceptual meaning that can be brought into this project and explored through the process of projection and shadowing.
artnet. 2018. Sol LeWitt. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.artnet.com/artists/sol-lewitt/. [Accessed 2 April 2019].
LeWitt, S 1967, ‘Paragraphs on Conceptual Art’, Artforum, Volume 10.
spilasers. 2018. A History of Laser Cutting. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.spilasers.com/application-cutting/a-history-of-laser-cutting/. [Accessed 31 March 2019].
Steen, W 2011, Laser Material Processing:Fourth Edition, Sprigner: UK.
Wood, Revisited. 2016. Gabriel Schama (USA). [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.woodrevisited.org/gabriel-schama. [Accessed 1 April 2019].