A Spinning Wheel That Brings Renaissance Sketches To Life

Pablo Garcia’s Profilograph transforms a handful of 16th-century sketches into a single three-dimensional object.

In 1528, Albrecht Dürer published Vier Bücher von Menschlicher Proportion, or Four Books on Human Proportion, a rigorous catalog of the human form in all its splendid variety. Nearly 500 years later, Pablo Garcia used cutting-edge technologies to combine six of Dürer’s profiles into a single object—an extruded, three-dimensional wheel. Set on a spinning motor and illuminated to create a shadow of fluidly transforming faces, Garcia’s Profilograph is a novel ode to the German master as it could only exist centuries after his lifetime.

The seeds for the project were planted nearly a decade ago, in 2004. Garcia had just left graduate school, where he’d been part of the first class to learn the wonders of the then brand new CNC router. "Flipping through a woodworking catalog, I saw a section on router bits for making moldings," he says. "Looking at dozens of profile shapes, I had a thought: Why would anyone want to buy all these tools, when one day a CNC will be able to make any profile you want?"

That question served as the impetus for a project that would eventually encompass a slew of new technologies and techniques. First, Garcia experimented with CAD software, making 3-D extrusions of simple shapes. Eventually, he realized that he could create blended extrusions, and with a piece of scrap foam he created an object that seamlessly stretched his own profile into his wife’s. "Purely by chance, I put a ruler down next to it, and the light cast a thin shadow line across the piece. The shadow revealed a new profile, one that was blended between the two ends," he remembers.

In 2008, as the Muschenheim fellow in architecture at the University of Michigan, Garcia found access to a far greater range of materials, and along with the help of people in the 3-D printing and metals labs, he realized his novel extrusions in some more ambitious ways. First, he tapped Dürer’s study for six distinct profiles, which he then extruded into a single form, joined end to end, and fabricated with a 3-D printer. In another experiment, he cast Muybridge’s famous frames of a galloping horse as a single bronze form.

"In one sense, these projects are about the process that requires both understanding of history and contemporary methods, of both hand crafting and cutting-edge computing, and about how to move between them," Garcia says. "Looking at it again, I realize how much of it is a Frankenstein’s monster of techniques and media and time periods."

But while the artist’s excitement came from exploring new processes and pushing up against their limitations, Garcia doesn’t see the works merely as "lessons in making." "As finished pieces," he says, "I hope they perform a little magic." You have to imagine Dürer would think so.

See more of Garcia’s work on his site.

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