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UNIQUE FORMS OF CONTINUITY IN SPACE

The original plaster still exists in the Museu de Arte Contemporânea in São Paulo, Brazil. But historical photographs make it clear that it has been heavily restored over the years.

Back to basics

 

Unique Forms of Continuity in Space started out as a plaster. There is no known record of Boccioni himself wanting to cast any of his plaster sculptures in metal during his lifetime, so the fact that Unique Forms of Continuity in Space is today almost universally represented as a bronze sculpture is not according to his wishes. F.T. Marinetti was the first to cast the work in bronze in 1931. His aim was to better preserve it for posterity, since the plaster had already started to deteriorate. To date, 17 bronze copies have been cast, ten of which are copies of already existing bronzes (so called surmoulages).

 

Boccioni's original 1913 plaster of Unique Forms of Continuity in Space still exists, and is located at Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo (MAC USP) in Brazil. When studying historical photographs, it becomes very obvious that the plaster has changed its appearance over time. This is the unfortunate result of multiple restoration efforts (in 1960, 1971 and 1986) to patch up cracks and damages caused by wear and transports between museums and exhibitions. The deviations are obvious in the plaster, but they are even more apparent in the multiple bronze copies distributed around the world (1, red arrows). This can partly be attributed to the casting process; details are invariably slightly changed or even lost due to the bronze shrinking as it cools. However, the occurrence of large deviations already in the 1931 cast means that there must have been deliberate changes made to the 1913 plaster prior to casting. Unfortunately, no photographs of the plaster exist from the time of the first casting to corroborate this theory. The possibility that changes were instead done to the cast can be dismissed on the grounds of recent comparative 3D scanning research (Magalhães and Zuffo 2017), which has shown that the Milan cast is virtually identical to the MAC USP plaster.

In order to match Unique Forms of Continuity in Space more closely with the reconstructed striding sculptures, it was therefore felt necessary to make a photogrammetic copy (essentially a 3D scan) of the bronze version, then digitally “reverse engineer” it back to its original state with the help of the 1913 photographs of the plaster.

 

The London Tate Modern bronze copy (cast from the MAC USP plaster in 1972) was digitised in high resolution and used as a starting point for the process (2). An in-depth analysis and careful comparison of the 1913 photographs (3) with corresponding ones of the Tate Modern bronze (4) provided the information needed for making the necessary sculptural changes in the software ZBrush. At this stage it was discovered that the whole upper torso of the bronze is slightly tilted to the left when compared to the 1913 photographs. It therefore seems that the casting was done in two parts that were later combined. Overall, the emerging 1913 Unique Forms of Continuity in Space is much tauter and has sharper defined features than the restored plaster, not to mention the bronzes (5).

 

A small 1:4 scale 3D print of this reconstruction was exhibited at Estorick Collection in 2019. It is currently the closest existing approximation to Boccioni's original conception of Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, and a full-scale version will be 3D printed in late 2022.

References:

Magalhães, A. G., & Zuffo, M. K. (2017). Aquisição e avaliação 3D da escultura Formas Únicas da Continuidade no Espaço, de Umberto Boccioni. Revista USP, (110), 86-103. https://doi.org/10.11606/issn.2316-9036.v0i110p86-103

[Published April 2020]

UPDATE

A revised full-scale version of Unique Forms of Continuity in Space has been 3D printed and assembled (6).

[Published December 2022]

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1.

1913 plaster

1931 Milan cast

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2.

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3.

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4.

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5.

6.

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