There are several ways that a craftsman is able to increase productivity, to amplify what is possible in size, or in amount, or in what can be achieved in the time allotted. Tools are the most common amplifiers. They use the energy in the body of the craftsman to get more work done than would bepossible without a tool. With power tools of course, the energy comes from elsewhere — electricity, compressed air or waterpower. When an artist employs a technician to achieve work that is also the application of energy from an external source.
In the two cities of Carrara and Pietrasanta there are over 100 workshops that fabricate objects out of the local marble – a concentration of stone-working skills unequalled anywhere in the world. These workshops are called 'laboratori di scultura.' These 'laboratories' have fabricated sculptures for many of the world's major artists, among which number Henry Moore, Jacques Lipchitz, Jack Zajac, Cesar, Francesco Zúñiga, Alfredo Cardenas, Max Bill, AntoinePoncet, Jean-Robert Ipoustéguy, Louise Bourgeois, Fernando Botero, Niki deSaint-Phalle, Gina Lollobrigida, Barry Flanagan, Richard Erdman, Manuel Neri, Anne and Patrick Poirier, Walter Dusenbery, Luigi Ontani, Ben Vautier, Marc Quinn, Jeff Koons, Mona Hatoum and many others.
The use of sculptural assistants has been common throughout history, but in the past they worked closely beside the master. Assistants working at distant became popular with the widespread use of the pointing machine. This new technology emerged in the late-eighteenth century and allowed accurate copies to be made without the artist being on hand all the time. The introduction of the pointing machine lowered the threshold of skill and experience that was needed to get started. By expanding the field of potential stone fabricators, this was a significant amplification.
Sometimes a single assistant will form a close working relationship with one sculptor. Such is the case with David Brampton-Greene who has collaborated with PeterRandall-Page for many years. Such collaboration lasts many years and is dependent on mutual respect and understanding. Both Randall-Page and Brampton-Greene are skilled carvers, sometimes passing work back and forth between them. Carlos Lizariturry carved the stonework of Eduardo Chillida entirely on his own. Chillida was an artist who worked in many materials although not primarily in stone. Every one of these working relationships is different. The assistant is frequently asked role is to be something of an inventor, figuring out new ways to accomplish what is needed. New techniques invented by the assistant become part of the art and expand the work. Sometimes one technician will work for several artists within a relatively narrow geographic area, as happens in Sao Paulo. In the Juan Fraga workshop in Mexico City a number of different craftsmen work for a single artist, the Mexican sculptor Jorge Yazpik
Whether one technician works with one artist, or many technicians work with one artist, or one technician works for many artists, the relationship between the worker and the stone changes with the use of power tools. Carving with chisels is about controlled breakage. Power tools are about steering. In China today, and to a lesser degree elsewhere, a huge amount of carving is being done with grinders. The regular rhythmic sound of hammer and chisel is replaced by the whine of grinders. Grinders are essentially an abrasive technique. They increase the dust but decrease accidental breakage.
When power tools are first introduced they seem to be violent and rough, producing obviously inferior results. This was the case early on when grinders began to migrate from finishing to actual carving. Slowly with increased familiarity workers are learning what can be done with this new tool. In the hands of a true craftworker delicate and sensitive work can be achieved. Some workers achieve a dexterity that verges on gentleness. The grinder amplifies the amount of work that can be done as well as increasing the possible work force.
Computer carving machines are a version of the pointing machine in the sense that they transfer a model to stone indirectly through a machine by marking points and depths. Computer carving combines several existing approaches in order to produce work with an exceptionally high degree of precision. A carving machine seems very slow, especially when a carving is beginning because it carves at the same rate throughout the process. Where a human carver might be taking off larger chunks of stone, a carving machine is more methodical. A human carver will get tired but a machine can continue to work twenty-four hours a day. It is estimated that such a machine can carve in three months what a person could do in one year.
Computer-driven carving machines can work from a numerical programme without ever having a model. If this is an advantage it has yet to be exploited. Most computer-aided carving still begins by laser scanning a pre-existing three-dimensional model. The programme for the five-axis milling machine will reproduce this model in any scale desired. The machine does not chip away the stone as in conventional carving but instead it drills, cuts and grinds. The advantage of grinding is that it can use stone with banding, inclusions, flaws and voids that could not possibly be carved by chipping. Barry X. Ball takes advantage of what the machine can do by taking a normal image, a face, for instance, and elongating it on the computer (like the old-fashioned technique of copying something from a square onto a rectangular grid.) He uses stones that would be almost impossible to carve by hand because of holes or banding would distract the eye from accurately reading the form. Once a machine is programmed to carve an object, it does not change and equivocate as a human would. A machine does not get distracted.
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