Future Fossils

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Future Fossils is a multidisciplinary project that includes sculpture, photography, photogrammetry, 3D printing and 3D animation. It examines how geologists and biologists are using 3D tools in the preservation of corals. The process started with creating sculptures by merging dead corals with 3D printed corals that were scanned and made available by the Geological Fabrication Laboratory of the Iowa State University.  According to geologists, we are entering the Anthropocene,  a new epoch that is defined by the impact of human activities on Earth’s ecosystem. The work questions the use of 3D technology by scientists to tackle environmental degradation.

 

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During the second stage of the project, I converted one sculpture into virtual data using photogrammetry software, which is the same tool that biologists use to monitor corals. Photogrammetry consists of taking 360º photos of an object to transform it into 3D geometry. The stitches where the image merges with the photographs are visible to show the process behind the scientific work. The errors in the mapping process make the texture appear to be melting into the 3D coral; this works as a metaphor for the bleaching process. When corals get stressed by human activity, they lose their vibrant colors and turn white. Most of them never recover and die.

 

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The 3D animation shows the coral spinning in a virtual world full of glitches. As human activities have evolved, the impact of these activities has depleted natural resources. Technological progress is largely responsible for the degradation of coral and is now being used to restore its function in the ecosystems where humans have decided that there is a need to do so. The camera zooms in and out allowing the viewer to observe the errors of this technology. There is an ambiguity in the dizzy pace of the video, and it is not clear if the coral is under construction or if it has been destroyed. The artificial structure of the grid inside the organic shape of a coral represents the workspace of 3D programs that are used in architecture and product design. Human activities have evolved, depleting natural resources, while technological progress has been a major factor in the degradation of corals. We are living in an economic system that knows no limits, strives for exponential growth and has a voracious appetite for trading in the earth’s natural resources.

 

 

In addition to this, the virtual coral was brought back to the physical world using 3D printing. This object symbolizes how biologists are replacing extinct coral reefs with 3D printed units in an attempt to regenerate decimated marine environments. Reef Arabia, a company based in Bahrain, is pioneering innovation in this area. They use sandstone to print their artificial reefs, which is a similar material to the ceramic powder with which I printed my corals. I placed the 3D printed coral in a perspex box with a blue background and a base of sand. This object works as an architectural model of the sea and as a future diorama. It is a representation of Reef Arabia’s edification plan, but at the same time could be an anticipation of the Anthropocene. The 3D printed reefs could be the last trace of corals because at a certain point, the real ones would be extinct.

 

 

The premise with photogrammetry and 3D scanners is that they deliver objective information, based on mathematical accuracy and impartiality. Nevertheless, the accurate information that photogrammetry and 3D scanners provide can easily be edited or manipulated. Some large companies feel threatened by environmental policies, and this makes their influence a big obstacle to overcome before harmful activities that impact coral reefs are regulated. On the other hand, there are companies that present themselves as altruistic, but their patents impede being able to scale the regeneration at a rate where it would at least stand a chance of making a difference. The potential of 3D technologies could be reduced to simply recording the extinction of Earth’s species.

Future Fossils is mainly based on the theories of Jean Baudrillard, Bill McKibben, and Donna Haraway. According to Baudrillard, simulacrum is the process when the copy loses connection to the referent, but there is still reminiscent of reality. The next stage is virtuality, which consists of the abolishment of all referents. In relation to my project, this hypothesizes that corals could become extinct and be substituted by human representations of them. The shape of my 3D coral does not exist in the scientific taxonomy of corals. The environmentalist Bill McKibben states that the Anthropocene can be framed as the global condition of being born into a world that no longer exists. Human activity could transform nature to the point that it becomes unrecognizable. On the other hand, Donna Haraway states that The Anthropocene is about the destruction of places of refuge for people and other species; but paradoxically, the construction industry is one of the most profitable businesses within capitalism.