Arts / Technology

The business of digital art needs to catch up to the making of it: Sophie Kahn

Kahn's artwork uses intricate 3D-scanning techniques. Finding a form for monetizing it, however, is much more clunky.

Artists who work in digital media want to work digitally; however, the realities of financial sustainability force them to make physical artifacts, such as prints and such, to make ends meet.
That’s the conclusion Sophie Kahn came to on the business end of our conversation about making high-tech artwork. The tech economy may be big business, rolling in cash, broadly, but for artists, the old-school forms make better money. Traditional painting and sculpture are more lucrative than digital work.
“The art market has to become more accepting of digital art before born-digital works command the same price at auction as a painting or sculpture,” Kahn told us. She’s done limited digital editions, such as this one on Sedition, a platform that Kahn says has been “really supportive of me and my peers.”
Kahn primarily makes 3D scans and 3D-printed sculptures. Her work explores the technologies that are helping move the digital into the physical world these days. She’s been exploring, in particular, the ways in which 3D scanning doesn’t quite work for rendering living bodies (though one local company might disagree).
“That’s always been an interesting element to me and the results are different every time,” Kahn said. To make this point more emotionally salient, she’s been focusing on the human body.
Here’s a scan she did, rendered in SketchFab:

One point about digital art presentation that Kahn emphasized was the need to keep one’s display medium in mind when readying art for presentation. As these images show, Kahn likes a deep black background for her work. However, when it’s projected, that just sort of becomes gray, to Kahn’s eyes. When she has access to it, she prefers digital displays. She pointed to Manhattan’s Electric Objects as a good solution in this space.
Kahn describes another piece she did — collecting 3D portraits of 38 New Yorkers — as evoking the flavor of memorial portraiture for the dead:

“I’m working on a new sculpture series,” Kahn said of her current projects. “I’m working on the aesthetics of 3D-printer support.” When printing physical objects, supports have to be built into that print, which is another unique aspect of this new technology.
Much of the technology that Kahn would like to experiment with is still too expensive. 3D printing often doesn’t use archival materials, she tells us, and using metals in 3D printing, especially at large scale, is still much too costly. She would, she says, very much like to print metals at large scale. “The machines are around, but they are not accessible to others yet,” Kahn said.
Kahn’s work by day reflects her artwork. She runs a consultancy that helps clients interested in 3D technology, called ScannerWorks. She’s currently at work on a collaboration with MakerBot cofounder Bre Pettis at Bold Machines, which we covered as Pettis transitioned to the new innovation-focused division.
Kahn grew up and studied photography in Australia. She is based in Greenwood Heights.

Companies: MakerBot
Series: Brooklyn

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