Earlier this month, London-based artist Jonty Hurwitz made headlines with his 3D-printed "nano" sculptures. Each sculpture is approximately 80 x 100 x 20 microns—so small that they can only be viewed using an electron microscope.
The sculptures are an impressive, ambitious use of 3D printing technology in fine art. With help from the Weizemann Institute of Technology, Hurwitz used over 200 cameras and a groundbreaking 3D printing technique referred to on his website as “Multiphoton Lithography.” The process took ten months to complete. Photos on Hurwitz's website show the tiny sculptures, most depicting female nudes, on the head of an ant, in the eye of a needle, and on a human hair.
Although Hurwitz certainly pushes the limits of an exciting new technology, I wonder if the sculptures themselves are anything but click-bait novelty items. Size isn't everything, and the sculptures themselves, of idealized female nudes, are both generic and unconsidered. In one sculpture, Trust, a woman steps forward, her feet firmly planted, one arm reaching boldly in front of her. Her body appears striated in the photos, which show her traversing a human hair and the eye of a needle. Another, Intensity, depicts a group of nude women, completely bald, whose feet appear to be disintegrating, liquefying. A third sculpture, Cupid and Psyche, is modeled from the Antonio Canova work of the same name. What does it mean that Hurwitz has shrunken the human body to the point where it is beyond human perceptual abilities and thus effectively invisible? And what does it mean when a male artist makes female bodies invisible? The implications are troubling to say the least.
So much of contemporary art is about drawing our attention to what is hidden. It's about revealing the invisible, the secret, the misrepresented—that which is deemed unfit for human eyes by news outlets, advertising agencies, and governing bodies. To reverse that trend, to make art that cannot be seen except with the aid of a screen, is thus a highly political act; in a world dominated by imagery, an art of intentional invisibility could be very powerful. But only if the subject matter and site-specific placement were more carefully considered.
In the surprisingly perilous world of skin cells and dust particles, the stakes are quite high: soon after the sculptures were created, as Hurwitz and one of his colleagues rotated the sculptures on a glass pane to better see them beneath the microscope, they were accidentally crushed, destroyed because they could not be seen.
(All images: Jonty Hurwitz)
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