Everyone knows that paper is made out of trees, but Jack Elliott wants to make trees out of paper. The artist and associate professor at Cornell University has several sculptures depicting trees or made from trees in his body of work, but his current project is a little different than anything he has done before: he wants to 3D print miniature trees using an Mcor 3D printer, which uses paper as its 3D printing material.
The idea came to Elliott when he was in Tasmania for an arts residency at the University of Tasmania. The Australian state has a struggling and controversial forest industry, and as Elliott learned more about it, he was moved to create a work of art that would reflect the environmental concerns of cutting down trees for paper and other supplies. He describes his project as one of “great irony,” in that it will feature a tree built from the substance that has led to so many trees’ destruction.
His subject is a dead blue gum eucalyptus on the University of Tasmania Cradle Coast campus, in the city of Burnie. The tree had been designated as a hazard and was going to be cut down, but Elliott convinced the university to cut only the dangerous top part of the tree, leaving a large stump for him to work with. He began by removing the bark from the stump so that it could be more effectively 3D scanned, in a process that took most of a week. He then 3D scanned the tree using photogrammetry as well as laser scanners attached to iPads.
Elliott will then create a 3D model and, once he is back in the United States, will 3D print the tree stump with an Mcor 3D printer. He isn’t the first artist to use 3D scanning and 3D printing to turn trees into statements, but the statement he is trying to make is a grim one.
“My background is architecture and product design but lately I’ve been doing what’s called creative scholarship in sculpture,” he said. “The idea is to inform people about the human-nature relationship, all of which is going pretty badly right now, right? Trees serve as a good metaphor for a lot of these issues, everything from invasive species to global warming, population ecology … so when I did research on Tasmania I was looking for a good tree story. For me, this idea of the tallest trees in the world, being measured after they were cut down and used to make paper — a material that can be made out of almost anything, rags, elephant dung. To be using the world’s most majestic trees to make something of so little value seemed really painful to me, and I think it’s been painful for a lot of people.”
The dead tree that Elliott 3D scanned was a large one, several meters in circumference, so it allows him to represent the beauty and scale of old, massive trees with his project. His 3D printed trees will be small, about 30 cm high, so he won’t be using tremendous amounts of paper to make his statement about the destructiveness of paper. His use of an Mcor 3D printer is a more environmentally friendly choice than using a typical plastic 3D printer, as well – paper is more recyclable and biodegradable than plastic, and Mcor prides itself on its technology’s ability to create paper 3D printed objects that are just as solid as any polymer.
Elliott is hoping to further utilize the blue gum eucalyptus tree stump in another art project, possibly involving the root system of the tree. He looked at a few other trees as potential subjects for 3D scanning and printing, as well, but regardless of which trees he uses in his work, he likes to work with them, rather than simply using them.
[Source: ABC / Images: Rick Eaves]
“I work at trying to reveal the beauty of nature rather than impose my own will on it,” he said.