National Gallery of Victoria displays 3D-printed artificial reefs, showing fusion of art and science

On a sleek, low plinth in the National Gallery of Victoria, Alex Goad’s artificial reef structure looks perfectly at home alongside other modernist installations.

The arc of interconnected modules, created using three-dimensional printers, is part of an exhibition featuring creative professionals fusing design, technology and science to represent the future.

It is visually pleasing in bright white. The bumpy, lattice-like construction is very tactile and high enough for visitors to experience from the inside, like a protective fish.

About 9,000 km away, in the Maldives, clusters of the same modules sit on the sea floor at Summer Island.

Three years ago, the bare building blocks were quickly assembled by divers, and these days they are covered with coral, sponges and algae and double as a protective house for tropical marine species.

Coral fragments that were implanted in the structure are now mature and are joined by a forest of natural recruits.

It’s a satisfying proof-of-concept for God, an industrial designer who seems to be sitting somewhere between artist, inventor, environmentalist and lover of science.

His high-tech laboratory in a warehouse in Melbourne is equipped with banks of 3D printers that bring his marine recovery tools to life.

MARS has not yet been used in Australia, but another God invention is not hard to find in Sydney.

a small image stands on a table
Alex Goad designed the Modular Artificial Reef Structure (MARS) which are used to improve marine life in places like the Maldives. (AAP Image: Joel Carrett)

At the harbor side Rushcutters Bay and Milsons Point under the bridge, at Balmain and Barangaroo, flat harbor walls are provided with panels he designed for the Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS) Living Seawall program.

The visual effect is one of a three-dimensional mosaic on the waterline – a piece of public art that appears and disappears with the shifting tide.

But the panels are science in action, transforming man-made structures that are hostile to biodiversity into complex grooved and dimpled habitats for anything that wants to survive.

A layer of algae usually occurs, followed by small shellfish and seaweed. Eventually, larger life forms emerge.

Much depends on the conditions at each location, but at some port locations, crusting layers of oysters have formed.

SIMS scientists have reported an increase of up to 36 percent in numbers of fish, seaweed and invertebrates in areas with Living Seawalls.

When combining art and science

The process involves an intensive period of designing and then adapting, in consultation with marine ecologists.

The prototypes are 3D printed, which is more refined, and finally when a product is ready, it is produced using traditional concrete or ceramic casting techniques, to save time and costs.

“In these highly degraded, completely altered unnatural environments, we use these tools and methods to try to get some sort of hybrid back between what would grow naturally, and what we need to implement, as a man-made structure, to try to improve the ecology,” “says God.

“But if we are to propose these new and ecologically designed structures, we need to know that they work and that they will not be a haven for invasive species, for example.

“That’s why collaboration with researchers is so important.”

But God says it is also essential to create and create tools that respect beauty, objects that stimulate curiosity, invite questions, and inspire conversations about what people can do in the future to create a degraded planet. support.

He is grateful that some of his work has made it into the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and is regularly seen in museums and galleries at home and abroad.

“I think a lot of this work is communication, so we can start to influence change, different ways of doing things,” he says.

“And a great way to do that is through culture, to go in with museums. It’s one of the best means of communication you can have.”

God’s work will be on display at the National Gallery of Victoria until February 6, as part of the Sampling the Future exhibition.

AAP

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