Sculpture Between Digital and Physical Worlds

"I’d always been into video games and so when I began to work in this digital environment it immediately made sense."

By Manchester's Finest | 20 December 2019

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When I met Dorian Wilshere I already knew that he was a sculptor. When he said he uses photogrammetry I nodded wisely – and later looked it up on Wikipedia. I still didn’t quite grasp how and what Dorian’s work involved, but it became clearer when I visited him in his North Manchester studio. Well, a little clearer.

Dorian’s mission is to take a physical 3 dimensional object into a digital format. To do this he uses photogrammetry. (The art, science and technology of obtaining reliable information about physical objects through the process of recording, measuring and interpreting photographic images. Thanks Wikipedia.)

But that’s just the start. The digital information is then analysed, used and manipulated to be returned to a physical object; for example by 3D printing it. This 3D object is then combined with other, traditional, materials. For example by making moulds and casting into it. The results are then -sometimes – subjected to photogrammetry themselves and the process repeated. Got it?

I think that I have – just about – having had a detailed chat with Dorian.

His sculpture, however, doesn’t always delve in, out and back in again to the digital world. And this one may be easier to explain. The nuns at Whitland Abbey in Wales had a stack of old slate tiles, having had part of the Abbey roof replaced. Dorian, along with a colleague, had an idea to create a sculpture in the grounds of the Abbey.

One of the nuns had a Madonna and child statue. He analysed that using photogrammetry (see definition above…) and turned the image digitally into layers. A template for each layer was printed out and the slate roof tiles hand cut from the templates. The layers of slate were then placed in position to create the finished sculpture.

“It’s difficult to get permission to create a sculpture on a religious site,” Dorian said. “All sorts of committees to go through and you can’t go abstract. I made one small part of the sculpture, presented it to the nuns so that they understood a little better and they gave their approval. Apart from one actually, who thought that there were dark forces at work…

But they’ve told me since that it’s a favourite place for them to go and contemplate. Have quiet times. The sculpture changes in different light, changes when it’s raining. It’s quite humbling really, knowing that it will be there for decades at least.”

Dorian is Welsh, although now an honorary Mancunian. After school (at which he says he was ‘good but not dedicated’), he considered apprenticeships. “I looked at a few possibilities,” he told me, “but I liked the look of the sparks on the welding apprenticeship.” The die was cast for the next five years, during which time he learnt the full range of working with metals, from intricate work to full building structures.”

But the job also gave him time to develop his growing interest in art…and philosophy. “I’d sit in the van at lunchtime reading Nietzsche and Heidegger.”

After those five years learning a trade, Dorian faced, he told me, a lifetime as a welder and wanted something more. A foundation course at Swansea College led to a degree course at Carmarthen School of Art and the practical skills already learnt were combined with a full creative environment. It was, of course, at Carmarthen where his digital interests also developed.

“I found a programme called ZBrush. It’s digital modelling software with different tools and brushes in a different dimension. I’d always been into video games and so when I began to work in this digital environment it immediately made sense. It was like working with digital clay, using gestures to make forms. That was the genesis of my work, using a combination of digital and traditional elements.”

But then Dorian discovered photogrammetry, photographing objects from all around and digitally analysing, soon combining the two mediums. But always with a traditional, physical outcome in many different materials.

“I just experiment across different techniques. I might 3D print an object, combine that with plasticine or cardboard. Maybe even cake it in plaster or graphite. Make a mould of the object by encasing in sand, which hardens, and then pour molten iron, aluminium or bronze into it. It’s the reaction between the materials that fascinates me. Most of the material vaporises, some remains.
It’s impossible to predict.

But then I take the cast sculpture, convert it using photogrammetry, manipulate it digitally and go through the whole process again. Each process leaves its mark. I like to see how things transform from digital to physical space. But all originating from one object.”

I think that I understand now. And at least I’ve learnt some new words.


Dorian Wilshere