Iris van Herpen [Image: J.B. Mondino]

Too many people believe that art and science exist as polar opposites and have delineated the disciplines as existing in an irreconcilable dichotomy that acts to drive the two types of knowledge apart. This conceptualization of the knowledge cultures is akin to placing two magnets next to each other such that their same poles when aligned repel each other: it foolishly denies the absolute attraction that exists when you simply flip one magnet the other way. Centuries ago, this attraction between art and science was understood as a given. The most easily identifiable product of this was a person such as Leonard da Vinci, whose work didn’t move back and forth between science and art, but rather understood the two as inextricably interwoven.

In the world of 3D printing, there appears to be developing an understanding that the bubbles of art and science are actually simply contorted ways of viewing a larger field of human knowledge. Dutch designer Iris van Herpen likes to play in the field and apply her understanding to the creation of fashion collections. Her pieces are explorations that encourage collaborative efforts because of the breadth of expertise in a wide variety of fields needed to create the pieces she has in mind. For a 2013 collection, she worked with photographer Nick Knight, who had captured images of the way water moved when splashed upon the nude body, in order to turn those images into garments. It became clear to Knight that van Herpen understood the inseparable nature of art and science, as he explained in an interview with the New York Times:

“[H]er approach to her work is rooted back in time, centuries ago, where the teaching of science and the teaching of art were considered as equal and nobody could regard themselves as educated unless they understood and practiced both approaches. This makes her, in my opinion, one of the most exciting designers working today.”

3D Printed Dress [Image: Yannis Vlamos]

She has continued to impress the world with her scientific creativity with a dress produced as part of her Ludi Naturae collection. The dress was fabricated using thermosetting polymers extruded by a 3D printer that were then exposed to ultraviolet light to set, and tulle fabric that was inserted into the printer bed during the 3D printing process. The dress could not be printed in a single pass, but was instead created in 30 x 30 cm patches that were then sewn together into a single piece. The 3D printing took 260 hours to complete and the handwork required to complete the garment added another 60 hours of work to the time needed to create the dress.

For the design of this piece, van Herpen worked with scientists from TU Delft, Jouke Verlinden and Zjenja Doubrovski, as well as a 3D printing expert, Drim Stokhuijzen from Design United, and an industrial design engineering student, Noor Aberle. This garment pushed the limits of what has been done with 3D printing in terms of the fabrication of garments. As TU Delft scientist Verlinden stated:

“During the printing process, ultraviolet light was used to cure the structures, making them set… Before this, no one had succeeded in effectively combining plastic with different properties with textile and we’re proud of what we’ve achieved… Normally, you would start with a design. With a project like this, you take a new production method and see what’s possible. It’s venturing into uncharted territory.”

The entire collection is exquisite; the way in which the fabrics drape combined with the patterns, both two and three dimensional, are reminiscent of the subtle structural beauty in the wings of a dragonfly or the feathers on the breast of a mottled duck, shimmering and natural while precise and geometric. van Herpen has taken the play of Georgia O’Keefe and the structure of a fossil to create a dress using the world’s most advanced fabrication technology. As Verlinden described:

“Like a concept car, the dress is not intended for day-to-day use or mass production, but it presents a vision. It also makes it possible to experiment with new possibilities, such as those provided by 3D printing.”

The collaboration with TU Delft is part of an artist’s residency program, Crossing Parallels, in which van Herpen is the first participant, and represents an re-emerging understanding of the idea that science, as much as art, is responsible for the creation of beauty.

What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts; join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below. 

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