May 31, 2016 | By Faith

The juxtaposition between new and old is a common theme as far as 3D printing goes. The ways in which cutting edge techniques can support ancient aesthetic certainly stands as an inspiring application, but it’s the importance of cultural history that such processes render most relevant. As predicted by numerous professionals over the years, the use of 3D printing to preserve heritage – most notably within Museums worldwide – has continued to develop: providing everyday people a very real (and often tangible) glimpse into the past.

An enlightening experience for many. However, one particular project’s focus on the Buddha (a fully enlightened being himself) figure has delivered some stunning results. The Smithsonian Institution, based in Washington D.C. has two museums: the Freer Gallery of Art, which opened to the public in 1923, and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, which welcomed its first visitors in 1987. Connected by an underground walkway, the spaces work together on the foundations of their own rich history to deliver stunning exhibitions of Asian Art, and some of their collections house some incredibly ancient works.

As an example of that familiar juxtaposition between old and new, the use of 3D printing technology within the space has amounted an impressive amount of feedback – especially through its use to liberate ancient sculptural work for visitors to engage with them more directly. In their latest project, along with help from the Smithsonian’s Digitization Program Office, the Freer|Sackler Museum employed Autodesk Remake (previously Autodesk Memento) to create a highly detailed digital replica of a life-size limestone figure of the Cosmic Buddha. Based on the concept of this work, the Museum is hosting an interactive exhibit entitled Body of Devotion: The Cosmic Buddha in 3D, allowing visitors to explore the previously hidden meanings of an ancient Chinese sculpture.

Like all Buddhas, the Cosmic Buddha (a figure of Vairochana), is wrapped in the simple robe of a monk. But what makes this sixth-century Chinese object exceptional are the detailed narrative scenes that cover its surface, representing moments in the life of the Historical Buddha as well as the Realms of Existence: a symbolic map of the Buddhist world. Over time, those illustrations have faded, and until recently, scholars have been unable to fully examine the ancient drawings. However, this collaborative research project, which also incorporates the use of an Ember 3D printer to 3D print a scaled-down version of the sculptural work, has given exhibition attendees and scholars alike the chance to see the piece like never before.

In addition to these final products of the research project, what’s also available to witness and learn about for those visiting the Freer|Sackler Museum is an insight into this contemporary process. An Ember 3D printer is actually installed into the gallery as part of the exhibition, creating replicas of the Cosmic Buddha, whilst demonstrating the power of using 3D technology for studying antiquities.

It’s a beautiful way to incorporate incredible works of ancient aesthetic with the kind of exciting technology that members of the public remain inspired by today.  Not only used as a tool of production, 3D printing can be seen as a tool of engagement – and it’s one that’s applications only look set to develop.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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