Just a few years ago, materialising objects out of the air, was no less Star Trek fantasy than warp drives and tractor beams. Not only are they now a reality, by way of 3D printing, but with superb, community-centred devices like Makerbot's Thing-O-Matic they're becoming ever-cheaper and more accessible. With an insanely creative and pro-hacktive community already outputting a phenomenal range of objects, from prosthetics to knife sharpeners and Yoda busts, it's could become one of the most important technologies of our generation. So when we heard about the 3D Printshow London, we were understandably excited. Eric Van Straaten particularly caught our eye, with his creepy and satirical ultra-realistic dolls. With clear influences from Nabokov and Ron Mueck, Van Straaten illustrates the maxim that the mark of a new medium success is it's utility in depicting naked ladies.
Top image: Lolita
So, Eric, how'd you get into 3D printing?
About four years ago, I was trying to make a commercial so-called ‘BJD’ (a Ball Joint Doll, these are very popular with collectors in Japan) by making a prototype in wax and casting a series in resin. Because of a combination of insufficient training, lack of skills and perfectionism, this was becoming an ordeal and at that time my partner in love and work Jennifer Hoes, received an invitation to participate in a subsidized workshop at the technology institute TNO in Eindhoven. She suggested that I could participate also and try to make the doll in Rapid Prototyping.
Within about three months I was able to make a printable and working prototype (about four more would follow, see here for an example) which was displayed at Dutch Design Week in 2009. I also discovered that commerce wasn’t really the thing for me, but had the idea that the technique maybe was the answer to the problems I was having by working by hand in visualizing my artistic ambitions. After some experiments in monochrome materials, I discovered with help of i.materialise the way to directly print in color.
What does 3D printing offer that you couldn't do with other mediums?
Digital suits me so much more than doing it by hand! Besides the fact that I might just not be that talented to work in handcrafted materials, I am also not very interested in the ‘accidents’ or uncontrollable circumstances that create expressive qualities in more traditional ways of working. I am more interested in works that are as close to reality as possible, combined with the alienation coming out of playing with sizes and combining non-existent parts in the scenery. I am so pleased that I can make infinite and tiny changes to the models without starting all over again when something doesn’t work. And, if you make a mistake: just undo!
How'd you get involved in the 3D Printshow, and are you active within the online 3D printing community?
I was approached by the organization of the 3D Printshow because of the group exhibition I curated in 2010 in my hometown Haarlem. This was called Ctrl-Z and featured about 15 Dutch and international artists that use 3D-printing in their work. The exhibition was accompanied by lectures and workshops. I try to be active online, but mostly I am just working hard at new sculptures.
What does your studio/desk look like?
The last years I have been literally working on my couch with a laptop. Fortunately in a month or so I will be working in a real studio which I will share with my girlfriend who is also an artist.
A lot of your work involves depictions of pubescent nude girls. Why only girls, and often young ones?
I am not that interested in the male figure as such, I think the average male personality characteristics have brought a lot of sorrow to the world. As I am a man, I am also predestined to have a rather narcissistic and perhaps childish way of looking at life. For me, the focus on girls on the threshold of adulthood reflect both my own obsession and that of contemporary western civilisation with (frozen) youth. What this focus means for the development of young girls toward womanhood, is painfully described by Mary Pipher in her book, Reviving Ophelia; Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. By using different accessories, companions and scenery, I try to transform the Ophelia-figures into Nemeses (not in the sense of archenemies but in the sense of the Greek goddess Nemesis, the spirit of divine retribution against those who succumb to hubris: arrogance before the gods).
Do you worry about the motivations behind any of the people buying your work?
I think that artists as a rule shouldn't worry about motivations of buyers and viewers. Artists can't be expected to control the infinite different kinds of 'Beauties in the eyes of the beholders'. Art that works for me is always multilayered. I like it when at first glance, there appears to be just one (beautiful or perverted) ‘truth’, but when you look deeper, there is something else going on at the same time. However, dealing with a theme that shares some of the imagery and motivations found surrounding perverted sexualities like paedophilia, I am well aware of possible moral issues regarding my work. I believe the works themselves actually take a 'stand' to (amongst others) issues like paedophilia, or at least I try to make them do that. I can only hope that buyers and viewers get this.
You've said before that many of the sculptures are modeled on "someone I used to know" - could you tell us more?
I don't start out by sculpting after a person, but it turns out that most girls actually look like people I (used to) know. I think the different ‘portraits’ tell something about what I think of myself in regards to them or women in general, or what I long for, am afraid of, or have lost and that the girls are visualisations of my own fantasies and fears.
We love your Groomer statue in particular. Could you tell us a bit about that?
This is actually a self-portrait of how I would not like to see myself in a few decades. In regards to what I think about men in general and because I am one, in Groomer I tried to visualize the worst possible post-midlife stage of a man's life (at least for me): that of an oldster, obsessed with girls that are a fraction of his own age. The title Groomer is a reference to both the 'grooming' of young girls by older man and the grooming of his own hair which he hasn't got anymore and should just say goodbye to.
See more of Eric's work at ericvanstraaten.com.
3D Printshow London 2012 takes place from 19-21 October at The Brewery EC1Y. More info at 3dprintshow.com