Douglas Coupland 3D scans a subject for his latest work.

Novelist and artist Douglas Coupland is credited with popularizing the term “Generation X,” which was part of the title of his first novel, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, published in 1991. Naming an entire generation, or at least making that name more widespread, is no small feat, but Coupland does not think small – his vision is expansive, and this is evident in his ambitious project, The National Portrait, a collection of 3D printed portraits of Canadians from all across the country. From July 2015 to April 2017, Coupland and his 3DCanada team traveled the country, stopping in nine cities to 3D scan ordinary citizens at Simons store locations. He then 3D printed busts from those scans, and in total ended up with about 1,700 3D portraits. The result is a 3D printed garden of humanity, diverse and brightly colored.

“It’s an incredibly optimistic piece,” Coupland told CTV News. “It’s a sense of unity. Not many countries right now have unity. It’s nice to express that.”

That’s a true statement, and the piece does impart unity, as well as a sense of excitement – Coupland commented that a lot of the subjects were excited to be 3D scanned, and it showed on their faces. The people he scanned are a mix of male and female, old and young, many of them with distinctive clothing or hairstyles – after a while, Coupland began seeking people out with unusual hair, as well as scanning people with scarves or cowl-neck sweaters to make for more interesting visuals.

Such a project would be interesting enough simply for the variety of faces it captures, but it took an artist’s touch to truly make it come alive. The busts are 3D printed in varying sizes, with some of them distorted so that they look normal from one angle, and stretched from another. They’re printed and painted in a rainbow of colors, including some with striking bright gold and silver.

“As technology it’s radically democratizing,” Coupland said. “You can be very casual and quite cavalier with the human bust, which even three years ago you couldn’t have done. In 20 years, they’ll look back and go, ‘Oh, isn’t that quaint?’ How little they knew back then. If only they knew some big technological innovation was coming.”

While 1,700 people were scanned, a total of 1,000 made it into the portrait. 70 kilometers of PLA filament was used in the project, which took 11 months and 15 Tinkerine DittoPro 3D printers to complete once all the scans were taken.

Coupland came up with the project three years ago with help from Peter Simons, Co-Owner and President of Simons. Coupland was working on a different piece for the store at that time, and Simons visited Coupland’s studio and happened to see the 3D printing of tiny busts in progress. The two began talking about what it would be like to create a portrait of Canada using 3D printing. Simons volunteered his stores as settings for the scanning to take place, and the project got underway.

The National Portrait will be on display at the Ottawa Art Gallery until August 19th.

“The National Portrait is much more than a Simons project,” said Simons. “As we traveled from city to city, it quickly became a national piece of art using technology that people were fascinated to experience as they watched their own 3D portraits being printed. Unveiling The National Portrait in the nation’s capital is quite fitting.”

Coupland’s installation is much more than just a bunch of 3D printed selfies put together – his use of color, scale and perspective truly paint a portrait of Canada’s people, highlighting the uniqueness of each individual while at the same time bringing them together for what is, as Coupland said, a rare picture of unity.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below. 

[Sources/Images: Simons, Ottawa Art Gallery]

 

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