Unmade Monuments: Exploring Public Space Through Prototyping Monuments and Public Sculptures by Twyla Exner, Assistant Teaching Professor, Department of Communication & Visual Arts

Lena Franes, Lightning Cow
Concept for public artwork produced in VISA 2010: Sculpture 1 at TRU

Unmade Monuments asks students to be curious about how art can and does occupy and activate public spaces and the rights and responsibilities of artists and the community in relation to those public spaces. From monuments of colonial history to the “world’s largest” roadside attractions in North America to contemporary public sculpture, art in public spaces represents who and what were or are valued within culture by those with the political and monetary means to build public works.

As an assignment in the sculpture curriculum, students were asked to grapple with these questions and create a prototype for a public sculpture or monument that represents something or someone that THEY believe deserves to be represented within public space.

This project was generously supported through a TRU Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning MakerSpace Faculty Grant and culminated in a collaboration between myself, students, and the TRU Library Makerspace.

In Fall 2022 in VISA 2310: Sculpture 1, students created a handmade prototype of a monument or public sculpture, modelled out of plasticine. With the support of the TRU Makerspace, they scanned their sculptures using the Makerspace’s ExScan 3D Scanner, corrected and / or modified it using Blender (3D modelling software), and imported it as an STL file into Adobe Dimensions (digital design software) where they placed a 3D image of their monument on a 2D photograph to provide a context for their proposed public sculpture or monument.

In addition to the above-described activities, some students also printed miniature versions of their models on the Makerspace’s 3D printers as an exercise in learning the process of 3D printing and applying that process to art making.

Student Example Process

In response to the assignment, Lena Franes wanted to make a monument related to her family. She said, “I was trying to think of something interesting that has happened to one of my relatives. In the end I thought of the story of my great grandmother getting hit by lighting on her hand when she lived in McBride and had to look after her cows. She had to go out late at night and in any weather to find her cows. This story always intrigued me.”

To make her artwork, Lena started by sculpting a cow using a wire and foil armature (interior structure) and covering it with plasticine.

The cow was made just the right size to fit in her hand.

Next, she made an alginate mold of her hand and cast it in plaster.

She then placed the cow to be cradled in the hand, making modifications so that the fingers fit tightly around the cow and sculpted a lightning strike onto the hand.

She scanned the combined cow and hand at the TRU Makerspace. Lena described the scanning process as challenging due to the complexity of the sculpture, it took a few scans to get all of the details in place.

Finally, Lena 3D printed her sculpture.

For her digital rendering, Lena chose to place her sculpture at the entrance to McBride, BC, which is where her grandmother lived and cared for her cattle.

Lena Franes, Lightning Cow
Concept for public artwork produced in VISA 2010: Sculpture 1 at TRU

Further outcomes of student projects can be seen at the bottom of this blog post.


In the Winter, 2023 Semester, VISA 2320: Sculpture 2 students continued to learn about 3D scanning by using the Makerspace’s new Shining 3D – Einstar Handheld 3D Scanner to convert large-scale handmade sculptures into 3D digital images.

Franklin Sayre helps Kelsi Mott scan her giant eyeball sculpture.
Franklin Sayre helps Chloe Murray scan her giant beetle sculpture.
Holly Bartels scans her giant duck sculpture.

With the award of a second CELT Makerspace Faculty Grant, myself and students in VISA 3310: Sculpture 3 in the Fall 2023 Semester will continue the investigation of digitizing handmade sculptures and explore the application of those 3D digital files through placing them in Virtual Reality environments. The intention is to place scanned 3D digital models of student sculptures into any Google-mappable environment, be able to scale that model and adjust the lighting, then navigate around the sculpture using VR, thus creating an immersive experience where students can imagine their artworks at any scale and in any place in the world.

Follow along with the Makerspace blog for more posts to come on this fun and exciting process!


Were you inspired by this process? I invite you to make your own version of a public sculpture or monument of importance to you! Create your own hand-modelled sculpture using plasticine or modeling clay and then scan it at the TRU Library Makerspace to make a 3D digital model. They have a blog post about how to 3D scan, which you can access here. 3D print your 3D digital sculpture at the TRU Makerspace – if you haven’t 3D printed before, complete this tutorial, then ask staff about printing your sculpture. If you’d like to learn how to impose that 3D digital file onto a photograph, there is a good tutorial on doing so using Adobe Dimensions here (this can also be achieved in some apps, in Blender, and in a variety of other programs).

If you do follow this prompt, I’d love to see your results!
Email me: twexner@tru.ca


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