Member Spotlight: Dustin Dennis

Dustin Dennis is an interdisciplinary artist and designer whose practice and research currently includes 3D computer modeling, animation and rendering. He has exhibited sculptures, digital prints, photographs and video installation across the U.S. at such locations as Tiger Strikes Astroid and Exit Art in New York City, the Clough-Hanson Gallery at Rhodes College and the Art and Design Gallery at the University of Kansas. Dennis owns and operates a 3D printed jewelry design business, Polygonal Encyclopedia. His jewelry designs have been featured on such websites as the Wirecutter, the Nerdist, and Shapeways. Dennis received his BFA in New Media from the Kansas City Art Institute and a MFA in Sculpture from the Rhode Island School of Design. Dennis has taught in the Creative Core Program at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN and currently is an Adjunct Professor in the School of Visual Art at Virginia Tech.

Western Honey Bee Ring (Apis mellifera), 3D printed jewelry design cast in silver (left) & brass (right)

Tell us a little about your background and your trajectory as an artist / scholar. 

I was a child of the 80s, a teenager of the 90s. Growing up my family was involved in muscle car culture of the 1960s and 70s and participated in countless car shows and cruises to my delight and chagrin. I grew up around beautifully crafted automobiles. I understood the charm and excitement of riding in my parents light blue 1968 318 Plymouth Barracuda convertible, listening to the Beach Boys, the Foundations, the Supremes, the Temptations on AM radio but was perpetually perplexed by the anachronism I was participating in. In many ways I felt alienated by car culture but it afforded me an early education of surface quality, form identity, color ingenuity, paint technology and techniques and fabrication processes. This exposure and knowledge was my first art and design education and likely played a role in directing me toward a career in making digital media artworks and sculpture. As a digital media artist, sculptor and jewelry designer the fundamentals of form, texture and storytelling echo out from my early experiences and continue to evolve.

In 2015 I started Polygonal Encyclopedia. Polygonal Encyclopedia is a 3D printed jewelry design business of which I am the sole proprietor. I see Polygonal Encyclopedia as being separate from other art activities I participate in and provides a different kind of outlet for designed works. The jewelry designs I make for Polygonal Encyclopedia focus on themes of nature and science. This body of work allows me to make digital sculptures that people connect with intellectually and physically and have presence in the real world. I have made a collection of honey bee and Einstein-Rosen Bridge (wormhole) pieces. I like that the collectors of this work may treat the pieces as tiny sculptures, everyday adornment or as special talismans.

Recent years of teaching in Foundations programs has helped me hone basic principles that influence the various forms of my practices. I am finding a renewed interest in the basics of composition, value and shape as they bolster my larger ideas and interests.

Western Honey Bee Ring (Apis mellifera), 3D printed jewelry design construction detail

What are some of your main influences?

Too many to count but here’s a collection of installations, artworks and artists that have had an effect on me over the years: Mike Kelley’s “The Day is Done”, Anne Halmiton’s “At Hand”, Charles Ray’s “Ink Line” as well as works by Pipilotti Rist, Robert Gober, Tom Sachs, Sarah Sze, Josef Albers, Rafael Lozano-Hemer, Robert Irwin, Hito Steyerl, Janet Cardiff…
Verena Friedrich’s “The Long Now” and works by Morehshin Allahyari are very inspiring.

Wormhole Ring, 3D printed jewelry design cast in silver

New Media is…….

A place for misfits. As an undergrad the KCAI New Media program I participated in attracted faculty and students who were interested in exploring what the term might mean. This often meant a collection of students who were looking for less restrictive qualities in a program. At that time analog video was still New Media – digital video was very new, 3D digital modeling was becoming more accessible, usable VR still seemed far in the future. What I like about New Media is that it’s an expanding tent that looks to grow. New Media also inevitably links to the more traditional mediums in ways that keeps the conversation broad. There’s room to discuss connections that are more extensive than the conversations people have about more media-specific disciplines.

The Archivist and the Gardener, digital video, 4 minutes 41 seconds

What is your typical day like?

When I’m not teaching or preparing for classes, I start my day with coffee, emails, research, then work on 3D models, images or editing. I spend time learning new tools and programs. When I’m in a workflow I listen to news programs and podcasts. I clear my mind by playing the drums or taking a walk. When I’m out and about and see something visually interesting or that strikes a thought I make a recording. I use these recordings to build a library to pull from when I have ideas in my studio.

Show Me, archival digital print, 11 x 11”

What are you working on now? What’s next for you?

Currently I have a number of projects that I’m working on. I tend to work on multiple things at once. At times this can be distracting, but it helps me identify the projects I care about. Typically those projects surface to the top and get prioritized. Other projects get shelved or transformed later.

For Polygonal Encyclopedia I’m designing an A-7L spacesuit, the one “Buzz” Aldrin wore during the Apollo 11 mission. This is a continuation of using themes pulled from science. This digital spacesuit will eventually become 3D printed at a small scale, made into jewelry and be available in multiple metals.

For my art practice I’ve been collecting images of objects. I’m using photogrammetry to create digital versions of objects, transforming the models, collaging and rendering them into digital prints. The subject matter for this series focuses on perplexing scenes with a goal of contributing to a lexicon of personal mythology. When making projects in the past, either videos, photographs or designs for Polygonal Encyclopedia it has taken a lot of planning. I’m trying to be more responsive in making this series. I’m trying not to overthink it. Pulling from the experience of teaching drawing is informing the way I aspire to work on this generative project.

I’m also in preproduction of a short 3D animated film about a kid’s rebellion and relationship with their parent through metal music.

A-7L spacesuit, jewelry design work in progress, 2020

Do you have a collaborative idea that you want to get off the ground?

I’d be interested in collaborating on a few projects. I’m looking to collaborate with museum object archives for the purpose of photogrammetry to create digital assets for fine art collaged prints.

I’m also looking for musicians and actors to work with for the short animated film I’m developing. Music is an important part of my life, I try to play the drums as much as I’m able. I could use help in co-designing a score, recording foley sounds and characters’ voice performances.

Untitled (Arch), Digital Image, 2020

What is the most recent thing youve learned?

I’m always learning more about how to approach developing curricula for students with multiple learning styles. I’m finding that students come into the program with a wide range of technical skills. My goal as an instructor is to help students make artistic breakthroughs, to get excited about creating. It’s been enlightening and challenging teaching in foundations programs. Keeping all students on target with the class goals while accounting for the strengths of class group dynamics is important. Knowing when and being willing to re-direct the ship if needed is crucial. Whether the subject is New Media or drawing, when I see a student make a breakthrough in a technique or a concept, I learn more as well.

The technical stuff; software I’ve been recently working on are Substance Designer, Substance Painter and Houdini. Surfacing for digital models has gotten more intuitive and exciting in recent years.