3D Tea Bowl Project

Ceramic 3d printed Tea Bowls made from digitally scanning traditionally hand-made Tea Bowls

Of all the possible forms we look at as contemporary ceramic artists the teabowl is perhaps the most iconic. It represents the convergence of function, history, technique and aesthetics as well as the relationship between man and nature. I have been studying and trying to make tea bowls for over twenty five years and continue to be fascinated by every facet of what they are and what they mean as objects. For me they represent the quintessential expression of our impulse to manipulate material into an object of higher meaning. Creating a tea bowl using the 3D printer is a provocative statement unique to our time in history. It calls into question many aspects of our aesthetic and historical lexicon by juxtaposing the digital age with long established methodologies.

I do not believe that this innovation will suddenly allow someone who has never worked with clay to suddenly create a “good” teabowl, but I do wonder what a master potter, steeped in the history and the making of the teabowl form would be able to create using this technology. The tea bowls we study in museums and books are an amalgamation of complex forces, some of which are possessed by the maker and some of which are inherent in the material. The art of these objects concerns the aesthetic balance of these forces. Great teabowls seem to record and at the same time somehow transcend these forces, all within the basic parameters of the utility of the object. Currently, I’m trying to understand the relationship of this new technology with my prior understanding of using clay to make an aesthetic object. We are three dimensionally scanning my original thrown tea bowls into a digital files and then printing them using the rapid prototype process. The result is a highbred object that can be argued as both a copy of an original and also an original object. These pieces are then glazed and fired to completion and displayed beside the original.

The ramifications of this technology is a two way street. It has as much potential to influence the digital world as it does ceramics. A major issue for digital theorists concerns the permanence of digital information. There is inherent degradation in digital information; this can be illustrated by trying to extract files from a floppy disc made ten years ago. Contrast that with the information that exists on the surface of a Grecian urn made three thousand years ago. Suddenly, this technology has the potential to record digital information in a material that will remain unchanged for tens of thousands of years.