An artist working with electronics and electronic media, based in Brooklyn, NY

Listening to the Ocean on a Shore of Gypsum Sand


Listening to the Ocean on a Shore of Gypsum Sand is a collaborative project between Gene Kogan, Phillip Stearns, and Dan Tesene.  Seashells are 3d printed from algorithmically generated forms for the sole purpose of listening to the “ocean”.  The project questions the role of experience in the mediation of the virtual world to the real world and visa versa.

For those of us who have had the experience of listening to the sound of the ocean in actual seashells, it is a questions of lived experience shaping an approach, not only to the object (or world) at hand, but how it is perceived and acted upon.  Are we to trust these shells?  Do we seek out natural shells for comparison?

To those for whom their first experience of listening to the “ocean” through the digitally produced shell, the question becomes one of how the first encounter with a virtualized and simulated reality shapes the experience of lived space.  This virtual shell is all I know of the real, until I encounter those found in nature—and when I see this natural shell, what then is my experience of?  More broadly, how does mediated reality form our preconceptions of the world?

For some, these questions seem obvious—we may even have convinced ourselves that we have this all figured out.  We are aware of the possibility that the virtual world and real world are two interacting identities, distinct ideas that maintain their individuality despite their mutual influence on one another.  There is, however, a possibility that this distinction is fading with younger generations, as technologically mediated experiences permeate childhood.  I wonder about the effect of this as they grown into the world.


The 3D models are generated using custom software created by Gene Kogan using Processing and Hemesh library, and based on modeling techniques described  Jorge Picado in his paper, Seashells: Plainness and Beauty of Their Mathematical Description.  Additional mathematics were implemented by Phillip Stearns for more creative control over the surface textures, shell shape, and deformations.  Fine tuning of the parameters within the program allows for the creation shells ranging in looks from very natural to completely unnatural and yet disturbingly believable.  Shell meshes are exported to STL format and re-sampled using Meshlab to give thickness.

The 3D models were then printed by Dan Tesene using a process in which thin layers of ultra-fine gypsum powder are bound together by a binding agent excreted by a print head.  Once the shells are finished printing, they must be excavated from the powder.  Compressed air is used to blow away loose gypsum dust to reveal the shells.  Due to the complexity of the cavities, the shells were printed in two halves so that the powder could be completely removed.

Once free and clean of the printing powder, the shells halves we bonded and cured using Zap CA, a cyanoacrylate similar to the chemical used in crazy glue.


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