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01-03-2011

Artist Uses GPS Data and Clarkson University Engineering Facilities to Create Sculptures

[A photograph for media use is available at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/beck_sculpture .jpg.]

Dave Beck, director and assistant professor of the Digital Arts & Sciences program at Clarkson University, has created a series of seven sculptures using a process that bridges the gap between the arts and the sciences.

While the final product was created with the help of Clarkson's facilities, the process originated halfway across the country at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts in Nebraska City, Neb. beck_sculpture

While in residence as a fellow, Beck worked with community members by tracking their movements via a GPS device. He then plugged the data into a 3D digital modeling program and created curvilinear forms based on their path around the city.

His goal was to create "unconventional portraits" of local citizens based on their movements during their daily routine. He chose to include no pictures of the subjects, but instead created unique three-dimensional drawings in space, each of which possess qualities that help to define the sculpture. He shadowed a variety of citizens, such as farmers, police officers, pizza delivery boys, and school bus drivers.

After returning to campus this fall, Beck began to work with Aeronautical Engineering Laboratory Technician Doug Leonard to make his digital files a physical reality. In addition to managing the wind tunnels at Clarkson, Leonard is also the technician for the stereolithography machine on campus. The machine is a cutting-edge piece of equipment that allows engineers, doctors, and artists to help see their designs and ideas take tactile form.

The digital models of the GPS paths that were created in Nebraska City were transformed into small sculptures with the help of this machine and Leonard's expertise. The artist also worked with Ted Ritzko, School of Engineering laboratory supervisor, to use a computer program to drill hundreds of holes into acrylic plates for mounting (this allowed the sculptures to line up exactly with the holes).

Beck then framed each sculpture individually in a shadow-box style presentation, referencing the form of a scientific specimen on display.

This type of cross-disciplinary collaboration is very rare to find, but is beginning to appear more and more in both the educational and commercial world. "Only at a place like Clarkson University could I ever see my creative research take shape through the unlikely partnership of an artist and an engineering lab," said Beck.

The sculptures, each titled using the first name of the piece's subject, are being exhibited at the Overture Center for the Arts, in Madison, Wisc.

The show, "The Interior Plot," opens on October 23 and is on display through January 3. The Overture Center http://overturecenter.com with over 380,000 square feet of space is one of Wisconsin's premiere arts venues.

Clarkson University launches leaders into the global economy. One in six alumni already leads as a CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. Located just outside the Adirondack Park in Potsdam, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university for undergraduates with select graduate programs in signature areas of academic excellence directed toward the world's pressing issues. Through 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, sciences and health sciences, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and engineering innovation with enterprise.

Photo caption: This sculpture by Clarkson University's Dave Beck, titled "Bob" (laser-cured resin mounted on acrylic, 2009), is a portrait of a person mowing a city park's grass.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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