While virtual reality is once again getting headlines with the illusion of a digital dimension, expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam technology has quietly revolutionized large scale digital fabrication, bringing the virtual into our reality. EPS foam is the material of choice for making the digital real. Computerized industrial tools, such as CNC routing and hot wire cutting, can shape EPS foam into the precise form of any digital model.

Now these industrial tools are entering the hands of artists. Poly Molding has partnered with The Center for New Art, a digital sculpture lab at nearby William Paterson University. This creative hub gives artists access to an unrivaled collection of high-tech equipment to push the boundaries of fine and applied arts. Artists at the center use EPS foam and industrial CNC robots to carve computer generated sculptures. Poly Molding continues to support the arts by working directly with the first Artist-in-Residence from The Center For New Art , Benjamin Phelan. Using Poly Molding’s computer guided foam cutting technology, Phelan explores the foam reality of EPS.


Above: The Center for New Art director Michael Rees works with students to carve virtual sculptures into EPS foam with a 5 axis robot arm at William Paterson University.

“I began working with Poly Molding during a residency at The Center for New Art at William Paterson University. The center director, pioneering digital sculptor Michael Rees, introduced me to the CNC technology at Poly Molding, and they amazingly opened machine time to allow me to work with EPS. Watching the factory function, I started to see EPS foam as type of digital matter, a virtual industrial substance closing the gap between digital forms and reality.


The Poly Molding EPS factory operatives like a virtual quarry, expanding foam into row after row of massive geometric blocks. These monoliths are then drawn through motorized string geometries of electric hot wires, cutting EPS foam into classic polygon solids, ideal forms projected out into complicated real space. Carved into home insulation sheets and planks, construction site foundation slabs, even the occasional decorative Greek column, at this architectural scale EPS foam functions as an engineered and almost instant “stone”. Like a consistently uniform mineral, its crystal behavior is described in its geometric appearance. Consisting of 98% air, 2% polystyrene, and programmed information, this synthetic marble is a transitional material for digital forms, allowing them to enter real space, bounding virtual information into functional surfaces with maximum efficiency.


Viewing EPS as this malleable information carrying mineral opens new relationships with a material reality that behaves with the logic and constraints of a digital interface. This radically simplification reduces forms to surface histories, reenactments of digitized input held in air. Suspending time between computer interface and reality becomes a problem of spatial visualization, the works produced at Poly Molding are like orientation markers for a new city where the digital map and reality are the same scale.” – Benjamin Phelan


Above: Produced at the Center for New Art and the University Galleries at William Paterson University Artist in Residency Program.


Benjamin Phelan, Energy Lattice

Above: Benjamin Phelan, Energy Lattice. Produced at the Center for New Art and the University Galleries at William Paterson University Artist in Residency Program.