Imparting Love of Innovation
The School of Art’s 3-D Printing Lab, located on the fourth floor of the Art + Architecture Building, is warm and whirring with computer fans, rotating digital scans, and busy MakerBots steadily shaping objects out of molten plastic. The lab opened in spring 2017, with the help of visiting artist Jessica Ann, who offered courses in sculpture, Time-based art, and their intersection. Since then, graduate students such as April Marten (time-based art) have been running the lab, which is open to all students in the UT School of Art. Marten helps students print their own designs, replicate items from platforms like Thingiverse, and use scanners to make 3-D models of real objects. As a lab technician, she facilitates the printing process, teaches workshops on scanning and printing, and answers questions.
“We have created a space that welcomes and encourages our students to expand the possibilities in their career goals as innovative thinkers and makers,” Marten says.
Marten has seen students use the lab for a variety of projects, ranging from three-dimensional self-portraits to forms for molding and casting with ceramics and metals. For her own work, Marten uses the lab to create three-dimensional collage out of found files. She has used traditional collage in her studio practice to explore ideas that she scales up to installation and performance works.
“It’s a natural progression to work out my ideas with existing 3-D object files as collage elements,” she says. “The knowledge I have gained working in the 3-D print lab opens up a range of conceptual possibilities, and this is important to my career as an artist who is responding to my immediate culture, its technologies, and their impact.”
In her position as a 3-D printing technician, Marten has learned how to maintain the printers, which pieces of equipment work best for particular applications, and the variety of materials that artists can use for printing. She has also learned that art students are excited about 3-D printing as a new media.
“Once they see the printers work, they realize that this medium is approachable, even for beginners,” she says.
Marten recognizes 3-D printing as vital technology in the workforce as well as the art world and believes the School of Art lab is helping students prepare for opportunities in a variety of fields, including design, education, manufacturing, and medicine.
“The School of Art sets itself apart by investing in and maintaining a lab that supports students who understand the importance of new media, not only to their current artistic practice, but post-graduation in the job market,” Marten says.
Marten’s faculty mentor, Emily Bivens, hopes to expand the 3-D printing lab into a makerspace with laser cutters, printers, vinyl cutters, and more, moving the School of Art further in the direction of exciting interdisciplinary media work.