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Hybrid Artifact #2, 2013 w/Donald Fortescue

The seeds for “Hybrid Artifact#2 (for John Bartram)” originated from Bartram’s garden in Philadelphia. Donald Fortescue milled a freshly fallen Willow Oak tree on site and made 16 green wood ‘Fortescue’s boxes’ A group of enthusiastic students from the University of the Arts, the Buck’s County Community College and the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, hand whittled small wooden sculptures using wood culled from the Gardens and provided a hypothetical text description of the completed pieces.

These small sculptures were then individually and carefully packed in the ‘Fortescue’s Boxes’ and shipped across the country to Matthew Hebert waiting with great anticipation in San Diego, California, all the way across the US - 2,700 miles (a tad less than the 3,550 miles covered by Bartram’s Boxes). Matthew then opened the boxes (conserving them carefully) and began work on his technical translation of Donald’s specimens. Utilizing an array of reverse engineering (3D scanners) and digital fabrication technologies (CNC machines and 3D Printers), Matthew translated the hand-hewn objects into 3D computer models, manipulated them in software, and then re-created them as physical objects. He created negatives of the whittlings and then remounted these in the original boxes; framed and lit from within like Victorian cameos. The descriptions provided by the whittlers were read by artists and then linked to their respective cameos hinting at the forensics of archaeology, while further dislocating the objects.

The 16 artifacts are arrayed to reflect notions of hybridization, mutation, and genealogy. The subtle textures created by both the hand of the whittler and the processes of digital fabrication highlight the problematic space of contemporary making. The radical changes in society resulting from the scientific revolution in John Bartram’s time are drawn into parallel with the radical changes in contemporary society arising from digital manufacturing. Notably, the whittles are absent in the finished piece. This loss allows the viewer to reconsider the surface of these objects and wonder at the still mysterious methods of production.