For some reason, natural disasters seem to have fascinated mankind throughout its existence; from Biblical floods and plagues to Mayan prophecies on the end of the world itself. Even the most skeptical among us occasionally stop to think that something apocalyptic could happen one day.
Perhaps we all have worries like that in the back of our heads because actual catastrophes are still very much a part of daily life. Floods, droughts, storms, ecological disasters, diseases and war are perhaps becoming more destructive and real than ever before, while mankind seems to be as impotent as ever to deal with them. It's therefore hardly surprising that people are increasingly looking for purposes, answers and solutions.
As part of an ongoing and growing exhibition at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum in Taiwan, artist Hung-Chih Peng has turned to 3D printing to stimulate our imaginations on this subject, while asking some interesting questions of his own. For Peng has spent the last four months on an ongoing project to 3D print a giant twisted and distorted modern rendition of the Biblical Ark of Noah.
You might recall (perhaps from a recent film) that the Biblical version of the Ark was a giant wooden vessel with enough room to house specimens of all the creatures of the world, allowing them to survive the worst catastrophe in the world's history: a giant flood that destroys all traces of life on the planet.
If something like that were to happen now, what would mankind do? As Peng explained to 3ders.org, his project 'The Deluge: Noah's Ark' is intended to reflect 'the impotence of human beings to face the uncontrollable catastrophic challenges.'
He argues that the rapid advance of mankind since the Industrial Revolution (we've been living in what some scientists call the Anthropocene era) have brought some untended consequences with it, like climate changes, environmental pollution and ecological crises. 'All the measures to control these issues seem to be in vain. Human beings are unable to return back to an unspoiled living environment in the past, and have become the victims by the force of their own endeavors.'
Two most recent pictures
While mankind turned to crudely built vessels in Biblical times, modern man would undoubtedly turn to modern machinery if faced with a similar catastrophe, which has been reflected in the project's cruise ship-like appearance. '[We are] about to enter the era of Mechanocene [the mechanized era], where machinery automation will be applied to production lines and where human beings are being replaced with machinery.' But will that be enough? If a modern day Ark would sink, what would happen?
Those are exactly the type of thoughts that Peng seeks to provoke with his project. 'This work is a metaphor to expose the collision between Mother Nature and the accelerated development of an industrialized civilization. If Noah's Ark, a symbol of mankind salvation, becomes just as a shipwreck, human and nonhuman were placed in an equal position. The human subject is losing his predominance as the supreme center of the world.' That is exactly why this cruise ship has been twisted and distorted; it is essentially transformed into a beached whale as well.
Hung-Chih Peng has previously worked on a number of internationally-recognized exhibitions that seek to explore and reimagine elements of art, religion and humanity in contemporary culture. He has masterminded exhibitions all over the world, involving numerous mediums like video and sound, and even painting and sculpting, to convey his visions.
But it seems like his apocalyptic 3D printed sculpture has taken things to an entirely different scale. As he explained to 3ders.org, his Ark exhibition is actually an ongoing 3D printing project, featuring a whole production line of 30 3D printers (UP Plus 2 printers, made by Beijing TierTimes). Fifteen of these were provided by the manufacturer, along with all the necessary filament. A 2-meter 3D printed smaller version was completed before the opening of the Ark exhibition and is now placed at the entrance of the meseum.
A 2-meter 3D printed smaller version
These printers have been running for thousands of hours already to produce all the separate pieces for the modern Ark. The sculpture is approximately 8 meters long, and consists of 6,000 3d printed pieces in total, Hung-Chih told us. About three parts can be printed on a single printer each day. This impressive structure will consume a massive 500 kilograms of filament to be realized, and is assembled on-site so visitors have been able to watch the Ark grow over time.
It's obviously a gargantuan 3D printing project, and relies on four full-time staff members to work on the printers every day. If all things go according to plan, Noah's Ark is set to be finished next week (the printing is complete), and will have roughly taken around 42,000 hours from start to finish. And the estimated cost of the whole project will be around 4 million Taiwan dollars (about 126,000 USD).
As Peng explained, the production line and almost organic growth of the sculpture are all part of the Ark's artistic value. 'Viewers can see the Ark in a four month production progress, growing at a rate of almost 10 cm a day, so the audience can see and experience every component of it over time. Peng went on to argue that 3D modeling and printing itself offers the visitor a whole different perspective on what objects are; '3D modeling is the conversation between the subject and object in virtual space, which is different from traditional direct communication with the object with hand or eyes.'
But of course the 3D printer production line itself adds value to art. 'Since the beginning of conceptual art, studios have been losing significance as places of creation. Sculpture factories have become just as important with their ready-made objects. But now 3D printers can bring a factory into a studio or even a living room, taking sculpting back to the artists. They can once again participate in the whole art production process, and can even be on-hand to make more precise adjustments in it.' And at the same time, production is being decentralized, making art far more widely accessible.
While all of this is just awe-inspiring as it is, perhaps even more amazing is that its Peng's first time working with 3D printing technology. As he explained, 'I initially did not understand 3D printing technology, and originally wanted to follow the traditional production method for sculptures – use 3D software to create the shape and simply send it to a CNC factory and sculpture factory to create the molds.'
However, this proved to be an impossible feat on the budget Peng was working with, so he began to explore the possibilities of 3D printing. 'After seeing the popularity of 3D printers that have entered the domestic market, I began turning to 3D printing. This process did not start smoothly, as I encountered many difficulties. I asked a lot of questions to experienced individuals and groups to discuss this complex plan, though many were not optimistic that it could be done. The creation process was thus also a problem-solving process.'
Firstly, Peng used 3D Max software to create a cruise-ship model, which was then processed in simulation software to be twisted and rotated 'as if it was a whale stranded on a beach.' But this first step was already problematic; 'The twisted Ark 3D model is very complex, it is full of cross section instead of integrity which can be printed directly. While standard software cannot run such a huge 3D model, a friend of mine fortunately knew of an industrial-grade company who were able to do so with professional software.'
After successfully modelling his ship, it obviously needed to be cut into smaller segments that are 3D printable. The eight meter long ship was initially cut into blocks of 10 cubic centimeters (more than 8,000 of them). This was also a problematic stage, as the company that helped Peng with modelling refused to work on the time-consuming cutting job, which also required employees to be on-site during printing, to make any necessary adjustments. 'Fortunately I also found an experienced draftsman which working in 3D printing service company before, so the problem of cutting work is finally solved.'
While this inspiring and thought-provoking rendition of Noah's ancient Ark can currently be admired at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum in Taiwan, along with its 3D printing factory, Peng has already made contingency plans for future exhibits. As his sculpture is 8 meters long, Peng has designed it to come apart into four separate blocks, each with its own metal support frame.
This will hopefully allow him to successfully dismantle, transport and reassemble the Ark for the next exhibition. It added an additional level of structural difficulty to an already mind-boggling endeavor and means it can be assembled with a series of screws. 'Fortunately, my architect friends were willing to help for free, and they designed a frame which carefully aligns to the many 3D printed parts.'
This does mean that this dystopian Ark of Noah could be coming to Art museums near you in the near future. While no future locations have been announced yet, it would be well worth a visit if it does stop by, and not just for its impressive size and design. After all, what better captures the concept of technological catastrophes than a work of art made with the latest and most innovative manufacturing techniques?