Feb 12, 2016 | By Alec

That 3D printing has become a respected artisanal craft is especially apparent in how well 3D printed works of art are doing in award competitions. Even the sometimes controversial, but well respected Blake Prize, the oldest art award in Australia is seeing the technology’s merits. They have just awarded their first prize to Indian artist Yardena Kurulkar, for her amazing photograph series of a 3D printed terracotta replica of her own heart as it slowly decays.

This is the 64th Blake Prize to be awarded. The Prize was set up in the 1950s by a Jesuit priest and a Jewish lawyer to encourage the development of spiritual or religious works of art. It has since grown into a very large competition, and especially the shift from traditional religion to exploring spirituality has created much attention. It is open to all faiths, artistic styles and media, and this year’s competition attracted 594 entries. Ultimately, Kurulkar’s beat 80 other international finalists. It is the first time the prize has gone to an international artist.

And it’s hardly surprising that the judges were unanimous in their decision to give the award (and the $35,000 AUD that goes with it) to Kurulkar, who comes from Mumbai, India. Her work, entitled ‘Kenosis, 2015’ depicts a 3D printed ceramic heart (a replica of her own), that has been photographed 15 different times while it was slowly decaying into nothingness. It reflects, the artist says, the shape shifting ability of human nature. “This work is an attempt to capture the erosion, resurrection and elusiveness of human life," she said.

The 45-year-old artist, who was a runner up in the previous competition, consciously named her work of art after a term in Christian theology, meaning the self-emptying of individual will to become receptive to God’s will. “The heart is the first organ to develop in a fetus,” she explains. Letting water run through it slowly destroys the unbaked ceramic, reflecting natural decay. “I use water to portray the passage of time and also as an agent of purging –  I let the viewer see what remains of this union – a heart-shaped something, a mere lump of clay This work is an attempt to capture the erosion, resurrection and elusiveness of human life.” she says.

The judges were unanimously positive. The panel consisted of Reverend Tim Costello, chief executive of World Vision Australia, artist Leanne Tobin and Professor Amanda Lawson, executive dean of the Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts at the University of Wollongong. “The heart is at the center of all faiths and when I saw the work it had a profound impact on me - we all empty ourselves into fragility at times,” Reverend Costello said of the 3D printed heart replica art. “Plus on a metaphoric level, I think the toxic debate on asylum seekers that has paralyzed us for 15 years and the smashing of foreign aid under Tony Abbott is a loss of heart.”

The director of sponsor Casula Powerhouse Kiersten Fishburn further said that this year’s entries were all of an extremely high caliber, making the victory all the more impressive. “There is something primal and rich about the use terracotta and the form of the heart. The work is a moment of both life and death,” she said. “This year's Blake Prize is one of the best in its history – we have so much diversity from traditional art techniques to video works.” According to art critic John McDonald, it is always very difficult to gauge what the judges are  going for. “The only thing you can be sure of is that something religious – like a crucifix or an icon – isn't going to win,” he said.

But Kurulkar’s work is truly remarkable. Her method of using with unfired clay emerged while working in Canada, where she noticed that the harsh winter sapped moisture from the clay, leaving it cracked and broken. “The unintentional and unstoppable decay sparked comparisons in my mind with human flesh, that allowed me to address a long-standing preoccupation with death,” she says. And by combining that with a truly impressive 3D printed heart replica, it was impossible for the judges to ignore her.

If you’re interested and happen to be in Australia, the Blake Prize exhibition will open to the public on February 13, at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre in Sydney. The exhibition closes on 24 April, before going on tour throughout Australia.

 

 

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