lasergreenWith some artists, you have to look hard to find the real meaning in their work. Gilles Azzaro is not one of those artists. The French voice sculptor, who creates amazing works of art by 3D printing sound waves, makes it clear what inspires him, honoring the things he finds important through his sculptural tributes. He immortalized the cry of his friend’s newborn baby, and, after the terrorist attacks in Paris in November, encouraged people to focus on love. In his latest project, Azzaro has turned his focus on something that has had a huge impact on his life, and the lives of others: the FabLab.

In 2009, France celebrated the opening of its first FabLab: the Toulouse FabLab Artilect, located in the south of France and offering a collaborative workspace to artists, scientists, and all manner of creators, researchers and students in the field of digital fabrication. One of the founders of the lab was Azzaro, who has maintained an active role as a member of the board. Recently, the FabLab expanded with the addition of a new work area dubbed the “Salle des Machines.” To mark the inauguration of the new addition, Azzaro was asked to create a piece of art that would be unveiled to the public as part of the official opening.

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Azzaro with his newest work

“The most important was to give a meaning to the work – the FabLab is a place I know like the back of my hand, it is part of me,” Azzaro said.

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Neil Gershenfeld

The approach he would take to the project made itself apparent right away. MIT Professor Neil Gershenfeld can be described as the father of the FabLab: as the director of the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA), Gershenfeld was responsible for the development of the first FabLabs, which started as a CBA educational outreach program and have now grown into an international network dedicated to the grassroots advancement of digital technology. What better way to celebrate the continued expansion of his own FabLab, Azzaro decided, than by going back to the origins of FabLabs themselves? He contacted Gershenfeld and asked him if he would record himself describing his vision for FabLabs.

Gershenfeld was happy to comply, and sent Azzaro a recording of himself summing up the FabLab movement in 23 seconds:

“FabLabs are a global network of local labs that are democratizing access to digital fabrications allowing anyone to make almost anything. With the technical goal of FabLabs making FabLabs, together they are asking and answering how we will live, learn, work and play in a world where data can become things and things can become data.”

Once he received the recording, Azzaro created a 3D model from the sound waves, then 3D printed it. It took two printers and over 200 hours to print the 1.8-meter sculpture, which was then installed in an oak and plexiglas case displayed in the new Salle des Machines. A green laser was also installed; as the recording of Gershenfeld’s voice is played, the light follows along, lighting up the peaks and valleys of the printed sound waves. In true FabLab spirit, the installation was a collaborative effort, with several FabLab Toulouse Artilect designers and technicians teaming up to create the wooden case, the electronics, and the programming and integration of the entire project.

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The creation and installation of “What is FabLab?” was a collaborative effort. L to R: Pierre Gautier, Paul Grenet, Thomas Grougon, Gilles Azzaro, Xavier Schaeffer, Philippe Semanaz

Like Azzaro’s other sculptures, the striking “What is FabLab?” resembles a jagged, unforgiving mountain range, but themes of hope and celebration run through all of his works. His newest sculpture can be seen by visitors to the Toulouse FabLab Festival taking place from May 6-8, but Azzaro wants to make a second one for touring purposes.

“I intend to make a replica of the sculpture that could be suitable for travelling exhibitions,” he said. “My idea is to have it travel to as many FabLabs as possible worldwide so each FabLab can see and sign it and have it go from one FabLab to another FabLab all the way to its final resting place: the MIT.”

To raise funds for the production and travel of the second sculpture, a Kickstarter will be launched shortly. Below, you can both see and hear Gershenfeld’s statement in sound and sculpture. Discus in the 3D Printed Sound Sculpture forum over at 3DPB.com.

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