A new art exhibition at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP)’s Rubin Center, Sections: New Cities Future Ruins, explores and reflects on the different elements of the U.S.’s Western Sun Belt’s environment. Representing the category of earth are a series of 170 3D printed ceramic objects, each made from native clay materials and realized through a collaboration between artists Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello and UTEP students.
The founders of California-based Emerging Objects, Rael and San Fratello are visionaries in the field of additive manufacturing, continually working and experimenting with new materials such as salt, tea, rubber, wood and more. The artists are, however, probably best known for their 3D printed ceramics, having made a series of innovative 3D printed building tiles, sculptures and pottery projects.
In the summer of 2017, the prolific artists travelled east to Texas to investigate the border region’s native clays for use in the New Cities Future Ruins exhibition. To better understand the area’s different clay materials—used traditionally in adobe and pottery—the pair worked closely with Vincent Burke, an associate professor of art who specializes in ceramics at UTEP. Burke and his students helped to find the clays, process them and test them to find which types would be best suited for 3D printing.
As a thank you for the support, Rael and San Fratello donated a clay 3D printer and software to Burke and his students at UTEP. The integration of the technology in the school’s ceramics studio has reportedly been a game changer, with many of the students appreciating the new form of pottery making. Some others, however, have been more resistant.
“No one was lukewarm,” he said. “I reminded them that (the printer) does not necessarily replace using our hands or a potter’s wheel. It’s a 21st century way to conceptualize our artistic practices and execute what is difficult if not impossible to do by hand.
“Our new 3D printer is an incredible tool that will provide our students with a great opportunity to learn a new skill that more and more artists are using around the world. It’s a game changer for us. It’s really remarkable. The key is using it in the service of art and ideas that reflect our unique individual voices.”
The 3D printer has been put to good use, as 20 or so students have created a series of 170 3D printed ceramic sculptures, ranging in shape, size and texture but all made from native materials. The pieces are on display at the Sections: New Cities Future Ruins until April 2019 alongside Rael and San Fratello’s 6’8″-tall 3D printed circular adobe vessel (printed on an industrial printer by 3DPotter that Rael helped develop for printing adobe).
Rael, a professor of architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, recently returned to UTEP to help set up the display for the exhibit and was excited by the diversity of the student-made 3D printed pieces he saw.
“I’m overwhelmed by looking at each one of them,” he said, adding that the collaboration with UTEP’s students was one of the best of his career. “The idea was, ‘How do we expand on cross-border cultures and allow the creativity of Vince and his students to produce a series of objects that come from this region materially and intellectually?’”
The exhibit, which officially opened on January 24, is running until April 6, 2019 at the Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts.