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“I have mapped an algorithm to interpret your soul”


Artist and designer Thorsten Franck answers Glint’s questions about art, technology and what it’s like working with “the mother of materials

In 2017 Thorsten Franck was commissioned by legendary motor marque Rolls-Royce to create an artwork available to clients that would sit in the ‘gallery’ space of their car. Digital Soul, the signature pieces he created, incorporate the client’s DNA in an undulating gold rendering. Franck begins by capturing the patron’s character in a unique algorithm. This data is then transcribed using the art of 3D printing, forming the largest piece of 3D printed stainless steel featured in a production car.

Franck's work sits in the car's 'gallery' the space adjacent to the dashboard

Franck’s work sits in the car’s ‘gallery’: the space adjacent to the dashboard

The steel is then polished for a day before being plated in 24-carat gold. The work is designed to interact with the changing light of the day, reflecting brilliance whilst casting shadows. Alex Innes, Rolls-Royce creative lead designer, who commissioned Franck, calls the work a “progressive depiction of an owners’ unique DNA – both avantgarde in its design and compelling in its beauty.”

Franck describes the additive manufacturing process he uses as often viewed as a convenience or solution. “My work embraces this technology and manipulates it to produce a unique work of art that could not be created by man alone. I have mapped an algorithm to interpret your soul. The visual aesthetics of gold change throughout the day by reflecting the light; there is life in this sculpture.”

He spoke to Glint about how he came to capture this ‘life’:

What is your background?

I am an industrial designer with a background in master craftsmanship. I allow myself to be inspired by various materials and contemporary technologies which often come to inform the shape of the final product.

How important is material to design?

The functions of the material together with the construction process constitute the ‘grammar rules’ for design as they co-exist with our human culture; they are the pillars for the contemporary expression of design formation.

A Rolls-Royce phantom

A Rolls-Royce phantom

What are your key artistic influences?

Although I am fascinated by modern development in materials and technology, my foundation is in traditional craftsmanship. Therefore, I strive to achieve the right balance between our culture, process, technology and material.

Why do you work with gold? What properties does it have and what assumptions do you break by working with it?

The pureness of the material is what endows it with beauty. Gold is powerful beyond its unique properties as a material; it represents an archetype, a true statement of luxury merged with modern technology.

Gold plating 'Digital Soul'

Gold plating ‘Digital Soul’

I view it as the mother of materials, it carries the heritage of our human culture. I am particularly fascinated by gold as a pure material; its interaction with light, the way it comes to life when sunlight casts its luminous shades on its surface. The visual characteristics of the 24-carat gold used in ‘The Gallery’ of the eighth generation Phantom ensure a one-of-a-kind experience for each individual observer, depending on their physical position within the car. The distinctive quality of the encounter is further accentuated by the fact that the commission is an artistic interpretation of the patron’s DNA.

Moreover, merging nearly 50g gold with 3D printing proved a perfect match whereby traditional artisan craftsmanship was enhanced by the production technology of tomorrow. Both material and technology are reaching a new, outstanding level of perfection, which is entirely suitable for a Rolls-Royce Phantom.

Could you describe the thought process and inspiration behind the Rolls-Royce commission?

My vision for the interior of the eighth generation Rolls-Royce Phantom was to combine a very traditional and sumptuous material with a modern way of crafting and shaping it. A truly bespoke commission, my ‘Gallery’, allowed for a new interpretation of what is possible in our craft. Although 3D printing has already entered my industry as a fully-established process, the achievement of an authentically outstanding aesthetic has been a real challenge. So, from the very first moment, my approach has been to develop an archetype, a unique material amalgamated with computer generated design.

Checking for a DNA match made of steel

Checking for a DNA match made of steel

In the production of ‘Digital Soul’, I used laser melting as a sculpting technique in order to fuse every grain of the precious material into a mould. In the post-production stage, precise handwork was required to create the interplay between the shiny golden surfaces and the purposefully unfinished matte contrasts. This highlights the harmonious collaboration between human labour and the machine in the creation of my gallery.

Each individual customer will enjoy a highly personalised work of contemporary art. Bespoke is indeed a fundamental element of the Rolls-Royce brand. I have taken the work to new heights by the progressive technology of 3D printing of pre-defined algorithms that capture the patron’s unique character.

Given the advent of 3D printing, is a revolution in living space design due?

My mission is to implement computer generated technology in our everyday lives in a balanced manner, while exploring the benefits for the consumer.

What have been the most technically challenging pieces to work on? Was the Rolls-Royce piece very challenging?

Large volume 3D printing is a considerable challenge, however, the biggest challenge in this instance was to create a usable product, rather than a prototype. The magnitude of the Rolls-Royce installation required additional attention due to the size and finish, the work is the largest piece of 3D printed stainless steel ever used in a production car.

A close up of the finished piece

A close up of the finished piece

Who do your clients tend to be?

My clients come from all walks of life, from industry to private collectors and gallery work. To me, they are all enjoyable artistic endeavours, as I take equal pleasure in industrially-produced objects as well as in one-off bespoke projects.

Is there one key ambition or project you’re working towards?

As a designer, my focus and interest is strongly towards the question of ‘what is the aesthetic expression of a technology?’ – From my perspective, the product should always enable its owner to enjoy the action and the moment.

Image top: Thorsten Franck working on a gold-plated edition of Digital Soul