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MIT’s Ultra High-Def 3D Printer Creates Futuristic Death Masks

Meet the artist-scientists reincarnating masks from the past, present, and future.
All images courtesy Yoram Reshef

Created with ultra high-definition 3D printing technology, a series of "death masks," called Vespers, explores the complex boundaries between life and death. Vespers was created by Neri Oxman and the Mediated Matter Group at MIT Media Lab in collaboration with 3D-printing company Stratasys. It's the second series in their New Ancient Collection, and the exhibition debuted as part of the London Design Museum’s Fear and Love show, on view through April 2017.


Intended to be a revelation of cultural heritage and a contemplation of the perpetuation of life from both cultural and biological perspectives, the collection features 15 masks and is partitioned into three subcategories: Past, Present, and Future.


Currently, Present is the only subcategory on view. Based on a previous project, entitled Lazarus, and formed through high-resolution volumetric material modeling and 3D printing, the series embodies vessels for inner structures. Designed to match the structures found in nature, Present employs the gradual development of a death mask's role as a “symbolic cultural relic” in the Past series to a “functional biological interface” in Future. “It moves beyond the exterior surface and into the interior volume of the mask, employing a contemporaneous interpretation of the soul’s journey,” Neri Oxman explains.


Past and Future are going to be released soon, Oxman says. The first series will be inspired by ancient masks, exploring life through the lens of death. Embedded with natural minerals such as bismuth, silver, and gold, five masks will use the color combinations commonly found in religious practices from different times and regions. The third series explores a new cycle of life and the notion of continuation. “Devoid of cultural expressions and nearly colorless, these masks are paradoxically the most alive of the three series,” Neri Oxman says of the Future series. Revolving around death and rebirth, the series will, “literally guide living microorganisms through minute spatial features inside the artifacts of the dead,” Oxman says.


In order to produce the masks, Oxman and her team process data to digitally generate 3D models before printing them on high-resolution Stratasys Objet500 Connex3 Color Multi-Material 3D printers. “Our projects require us to invent computational design tools and technologies to create them,” Oxman explains. ”In that sense, the relationship between our design ambitions and the technologies that enable them is, well, ‘non-platonic.’ We look for design opportunities where the technique defines an expression as much as the expression defines the technique.”


To learn more about Vespers, click here.


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