Artec Eva gets up close with facial paralysis and the emotions that lie behind it

08/03/2020

By Loretta Marie Perera

When Artistic Director Vic McEwan first used Artec Eva to scan the face of a patient with facial paralysis in mid-2019, his goal was primarily to explore. “I’m doing my PhD and part of that is exploring facial paralysis and what it means to people. At that time I was working with a patient and with one of the leading facial nerve surgeons in the world,” McEwan of New South Wales’s The CAD Factory says. “We started exploring the patient’s story and decided to start scanning their face.”

With Artec Eva, Vic McEwan’s “If They Spend the Time to Get to Know Me” exhibition at Tate Liverpool features the art and emotion behind facial paralysis.

Facial paralysis – the loss of facial movement due to nerve damage – affects 1.5 percent of people at some point in their lives. This loss of movement, often on one side of the face, can be present at birth or occur later in life. It can be the result of a stroke or a tumor, or a side effect of a disease or an injury. For some, it goes away, while for others it is permanent. Facial paralysis can often affect the patient’s interactions with others, and interfere with how others perceive them: Besides negative impacts on speech and vision, facial paralysis also impacts your appearance, and how facial expressions are shown. Those who suffer from facial paralysis are constantly stared at and have higher rates of depression.

Once the scanning began, a bigger plan started to form.

“I thought there would be a detachment with 3D scanning and software but it was quite the opposite – using all this amazing technology to get these really high quality three-dimensional digital images, we understood that we could use them to explore the emotional quality within them,” the University of Sydney student says.

A structured-light 3D scanner that captures precise measurements of all kinds of objects and surfaces, Artec Eva is safe and accurate in all instances, whether it’s scanning an automobile part, a prosthetic limb, a child’s head, or Barack Obama himself.

When the offer arrived from Tate Liverpool museum to display his work, the scope of the exhibition expanded. “I thought it’d be relevant rather than just showing the work that we’d made previously or were in the process of still making, to recognize that it’s not just people who have facial paralysis who have issues with their own face,” says McEwan. “It’s an opportunity to engage with people by scanning them.”

With supervision from Dr. Susan Coulson, founding member of the Sydney Facial Nerve Service and leading physiotherapist specializing in facial nerve paralysis, McEwan began to explore common ground between the worlds of medicine, technology, and art.

Over the course of the exhibition, which runs from March 3 to 22, 2020, visitors to Tate Liverpool will be invited to participate in this interactive and multi-dimensional exhibition: Faces will be scanned with Artec Eva, and data will be processed in real time using Artec Studio software for fast 3D model-making while a 3D printer chugs away, churning out one printed face after another. Each print takes about six hours, with 110 available skin tones ensuring that each individual’s exact pantone color is matched – that representation of diversity exists within the work as well. Starting things off with some of his previous work, McEwan aims to have as many as 100 faces printed and mounted on the wall by the end of the exhibition.

While faces are being scanned, they are also being printed – all to be mounted on a wall as part of the exhibition. [Photo by Vic McEwan / The CAD Factory]

On top of the facial scanning and printing, several installations add to the immersive nature of the exhibition. A video featuring patients talking about their experience of being scanned, a doctor being scanned and printed as part of an audio project to expand on the emotional weight medical practitioners face, while a “facial nerve harp” – an instrument assembled on a model of a patient’s face – gives voice to nerves that don’t work any longer.

Photographic images on the wall will give visitors a behind-the-scenes experience of Artec Studio and how data is generated. “I showed screenshots to my 9-year-old daughter and she said, ‘Wow, look at all these faces made of butterflies!’” he recalls. “[Even within the software data] there are a lot of beautiful images that are almost poetic.”

Merging medical studies, art, and technology to get a closer look behind facial paralysis. [Photo by Vic McEwan / The CAD Factory]

3D scanning is also a way to experiment with how visitors are brought into the gallery: They can come on their own time, where they engage with the artworks however they want to – whether that’s in a deep way which involves participation, or in a quick way, as a viewer.

An ambitious project in itself, the international nature of the exhibition posed more challenges still. “Accessing a scanner [in a foreign city] and bringing parts of my studio from Australia over, first of all,” McEwan laughs.

Supporting the exhibition in Liverpool is Artec 3D’s UK Gold Partner Patrick Thorn & Co., who are not new to facial and medical scanning. “We’ve worked with facial scanning before, like in the case of scanning ears and 3D printing ear implants for children, and facial reconstruction for forensics and archeology,” Thorn says. “In this case, it was wonderful to be able to see the worlds of medicine and art combine – not to mention this cross-continental collaboration between Australia and England!”

McEwan also has had to work with two ethics committees – one that oversees work in Sydney and one within the university – to get his facial scanning of patients approved.

While waiting for approval from the ethics committee, only two patients were scanned. Upon his return to Sydney, he says, all ongoing patients will be scanned, as well as doctors and all medical practitioners involved. This is all part of a larger future exhibition: The Tate artwork will be part of a final exhibition, and will eventually be presented alongside a thesis and more research done over the next few years.

In his quest to find the appropriate 3D scanner and accompanying software, McEwan considered several options. Besides the smooth process and option to use scans creatively, it was the visual effect of Eva’s scans that had appeal as well.

An artistic display of facial scanning. [Photo by Vic McEwan / The CAD Factory]

“I looked through all sorts of different 3D scanning software to see which ones had the most beautiful images when they’re being created – and I love Artec software. It’s the one I’ve found where I think, I’d like to get a copy of that and print that, large, because they’re beautiful.”

Within this crossroads of medicine, art, and technology, 3D scanning people’s faces and capturing things that often go unseen, has added a new element to an already immersive and inclusive exhibition.

“I’m entering a medical world where it’s all about everything having to be known, where people say things like, ‘If you can't measure it, it is not a true fact,’” says McEwan. “And I’m here saying the opposite of that – within the things we can’t measure, there’s so much information beyond what’s clinical or practical that’s vital for us to understand each other.”