Penn State School of Visual Arts Associate Professor Cristin Millett was a resident artist at the 2015 Digital Stone Project (DSP) in Gramolazzo, Italy, this summer, one of only 17 professional artists, university educators and students from across the globe who traveled to Tuscany to realize their projects, share their research, exchange ideas and carve their marble blocks.
DSP utilizes new advances in 3D modeling software and robotic technology, but applies these cutting-edge techniques to the time-honored tradition of marble stone carving. At the culmination of Millett’s residency, her work was exhibited in Florence in "Marble Codes: Robotic Sculpture from Garfagnana," at the Giardino di Villa Strozzi. The opening reception coincided with 3Digitale Tra Arte Design E Artigianato, a conference exploring the use of digital technologies in art, craft, and design.
“Professor Millett’s work demonstrates the intersection of art, science and technology that explodes the traditional disciplinary boundaries,” said Barbara Korner, dean of the College of Arts and Architecture. “She encourages students and professionals in any of these fields to consider new questions about the human body in time and space and the impact of technology on humanity. Her work challenges our ordinary notions about materiality and adapts technological advances for artistic uses that then lead to new explorations.”
Millett’s invitation to apply for the Digital Stone Project stemmed from her research, which utilizes 3D digital printing in the lost-wax foundry process. Her presentation at the seventh International Conference on Contemporary Cast Iron Art in Latvia in June 2014 focused on incorporating innovative technologies with established foundry processes. During spring 2015, Millett worked with engineers and technicians at the Garfagnana Innovazione to develop a three-dimensional computer model of her concept. Using the latest innovations in digital stone fabrication technologies, Millet’s sculpture was machined in marble using a seven-axis robotic arm at the Garfagnana Innovazione and then finished by hand.
As a resident of the Digital Stone Project, Millett created "Transection of the Anatomical Planes." In explaining her piece, Millett writes:
Rooted in the rich history of medicine in Italy, "Transection of the Anatomical Planes" is a marble dissection table incised along the three anatomical planes: the coronal, the sagittal, and the transverse. The slab normally supporting a prone cadaver is instead a vacant void, a sunken cavity suggesting emptiness and loss. The piece references the tradition of écorché models as well as contemporary modes of visualizing the body, such as the Visible Human Project.
At an early stage of the design process, Millett proposed using a flayed computer model of a cadaver to sink into the surface of the dissection table. This conceptual impetus led her to experiment with materials that suggest the striation of muscles. As a result, Millett imbedded the body cavity with local Italian meats like prosciutto and pancetta that she encased in translucent silicone. The combination of the veined piastra bagnata marble, the cured meat, and the rubbery silicone suggest the sensual quality of the body and the luminosity of fat and skin.
Millett’s investigations of medicine and its history are integral to her process. Her research stems from her childhood growing up in a medical household where she was surrounded by discussions, most often at the dinner table, that focused on the human body: its diseases, its symptoms, its diagnosis, and its treatment. As a sculptor, she operates in the field of object making, but she strongly believes her objects have less impact outside of the context of the installation for which they were created. While she will exhibit "Transection of the Anatomical Planes" independently, ultimately, the sculpture will reside at the heart of a larger installation, "Coronal Plane." Her work actively explores this contrast in scale, coupled with an effort to bring awareness to viewers of their physicality, their sexuality, and all its implications.
More information on Millett’s residency and exhibition in Italy can be found here:
Millett received support for her reearch and travel from Autodesk, as well as Penn State’s Institute for Arts and Humanities, the College of Arts and Architecture Hess Research Endowment, and the School of Visual Arts.