Vespers: Series of 3D Printed Death Masks Feature at National Gallery of Victoria

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We have long admired the work of Neri Oxman, the architect, designer, and professor who runs the Mediated Matter research group at the MIT Media Lab and coined the phrase ‘material ecology’ to describe how she molds materials in a nature-inspired context. Oxman often partners with Stratasys on her 3D printed artistic visions, most recently on the breakthrough Vespers series of 3D printed death masks for part of the company’s 3D printed art and design collection The New Ancient, which reimagines design in the modern world by combining cutting edge technology with the historical crafts and designs of past civilizations.

The 15-mask series, designed by Oxman and her team and 3D printed on the full-color, multi-material Stratasys J750 3D printer, originally debuted at London’s Design Museum last November, and was showcased again this spring at the ‘Printing the World | Imprimer le Monde’ exhibition in Paris.

Installation view of Vespers, Series 1 – 3, masks 1 – 5, on display at NGV Triennial. [Image: Tom Ross]

Oxman said, “Vespers is the most sophisticated expression of our design approach so far, demonstrating that we can seamlessly vary the physical properties of materials in extremely high resolution that matches, and ultimately transcends, the scales of nature.”

3D printed VESPERS, Mask 3, Series 1. [Image: Yoram Reshef]

This week, Stratasys announced that two of the three Vespers series 3D printed death masks have been acquired by the prestigious National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), located in Melbourne and the oldest, most visited gallery in all of Australia.

The death masks premiered last week at the museum’s inaugural NGV Triennial exhibition, which runs until April 15, 2018. The free exhibition features work by more than 100 artists and designers, including Oxman and Iris van Herpen, from 32 countries who were chosen for their diversity and dynamic practices, which include modern robotics and 3D printing technologies.

The NGV Triennial celebrates contemporary art and design, and highlights some of the important issues that today’s artists and designers are exploring in their work.

“For a Triennial that sets out to explore the interface between art, design, architecture, science, ecology and technology – Neri Oxman’s work could not be more fitting. These 15 complex and intriguing objects offer a compelling conversation about past, present and future, delving into our psychological and cultural relationship to death and adornment, while speculating on the capacity of additive manufacturing to create, at a cellular level, new materials, medicines, and technologies that draw from nature and in-depth design research,” said Ewan McEoin, Senior Curator of Contemporary Design and Architecture at NGV. “Neri’s collaboration with Stratasys has enabled objects of beauty and profound intelligence.”

3D printed VESPERS, Mask 1, Series 1. [Image: Yoram Reshef]

The 15 3D printed masks that make up Vespers are in three separate series, which portray the past, present, and future, and the entire collection explores themes found in both ancient traditions and futuristic technologies, while also contemplating the preservation of biological and cultural life. It fits perfectly with the Triennial, as visitors looking through the works are encouraged to “contemplate the social, cultural, scientific and physiological questions of our contemporary world,” as Stratasys described the experience.

“Vespers’ designs are entirely data-driven, digitally-generated, 3D printed, and – at times – biologically augmented. By pushing the boundaries of cusp technologies – such as high-resolution material modelling, Stratasys’ full color multi-material 3D printing, and synthetic biology – they express the death mask’s deeper meanings and possible future use, thus bringing it back to life,” said Oxman.

Installation view of Neri Oxman Vespers at NGV Triennial. [Image: Tom Ross]

Vespers is the embodiment of Stratasys’ The New Ancient collection, which forms a delicate balance between the bio-technological advancement behind the 3D printed death masks and their tribal, indigenous qualities. The ‘Past’ series, inspired by ancient masks, uses death to explore life and its historic origins, and Oxman made good use of the J750’s multi-material, full-color 3D printing technology in its design, using five material combinations to accurately mimic the colors seen in cultural artifacts from different eras and regions.

“We don’t often get the opportunity to contemplate the topic of life and death from within the discipline and perspective of industrial design,” said Naomi Kaempfer, Creative Director of Art, Design and Fashion at Stratasys. “The New Ancient collection from Stratasys finds itself amid a technological era and consumeristic society, emerging from the competitive trenches of research and development moving towards the reigns of cutting-edge innovation. A subtle poetic and sustainable hunger has risen to slow us down for just a moment, to gaze deeply into the particles that compose the antique wisdom and emotion of our human heritage, enabling us to cherish and bridge this universal truth.”

NGV only acquired Series 1 and 3 of Vespers, though Series 2 is also on display at its Triennial exhibition.

To see the 3D printed death masks in Stratasys and Oxman’s Vespers series for yourself, you can visit the NGV Triennial exhibition, held at the museum’s NGV International building, until April 15th, 2018.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below. 


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