Rise of the machines

…actually, just one particular machine. The 3D printer has become a source of fascination to me in the past month. Like buses or boyfriends, they have come from nowhere and are suddenly everywhere. Useful for a somewhat limited number of applications right now, I’m pretty convinced that what we are seeing is just the beginnings of a revolution. In ten years I have no doubt

we will be looking back at our early attempts to self-manufacture trainers and hand guns in the same way as we smile fondly at the memories of Betamax video and Commodore 64s. No doubt we will mull it all over whilst sitting on a 3D printed sofa downloaded from IKEA (hopefully supplied with more instructions than a set of cartoons and an allen key).

Having leapt that far into the future during my thought process, I have terrified myself with the idea of millions of homogenous 3D printed ‘Billy’ bookshelves being made readily available without the obligatory ‘visit IKEA, have a row’ stage of procurement to slow their march to world domination. But more frightening than the Swedes must surely be the rise of the self-anointed 3D interior designer. It is almost inevitable that the 3D printing industry will spawn a generation of DIY enthusiasts producing ‘unique’ decoration for their personal pleasure. If you thought the Lawrence Lewellyn-Bowen effect was bad, imagine what could be done with 3D technology at your fingertips instead of five hundred dollar’s worth of MDF and some leopard skin paint.

So before I got too depressed at the thought of 3D design going the same direction as  its 2D sisters – typography, graphic design and photography – (anyone with Photoshop can do it, right?) I thought I would take a look around and see what I could find in the way of artists who are already adapting to this latest medium. And it turns out there are already some remarkably futuristic leaps being made that go way beyond flat pack furniture.

Sculpture, of course, is the obvious starting point. There’s no reason why the future sculptor would not consider 3D printing in the same way as Michelangelo would choose a block of marble and a chisel. Kevin Mack is one such artist who believes in using science and technology to “create art that has never been seen before.” He produces work that is of a surreal nature – or maybe we just think it is surreal because the medium is still so new and foreign. When I look at Kevin’s work I start to see those paintings on the walls a little clearer, that’s for sure.

Architecture is getting the 3D treatment too. Digital Grotesque are about to unveil their ‘elaborate, fully enclosed room that is entirely 3D printed’. Although there are several other projects of this nature being produced, 3D Printing Industry.com reports this to be the most ambitious project to date. The artists (or are they architects? Or computer programmers?), Michael Hansmeyer and Benjamin Dillenburger, are quoted as saying the room is “Inspired by the natural process of cell division, (developed by) an algorithm that iteratively divides and transforms the initial geometry of a simple cube. Despite simple rules, a complex world of forms arises at multiple scales: between ornament and structure, between order and chaos, foreign and yet familiar: a digital grotesque.” – Digital Grotesque – Amazing Study of 3D Printed Architectural Concepts, 3Dprintingindustry.com. Again, the work looks familiar yet surreal. I wonder if it is the artists or the printers themselves that are dictating a new style of art.

They are certainly causing a lot of people to think outside the box, which has allayed my fears a little. This stunning interactive light installation by Bridge and Platige Image  is another example of the futuristic blend between technology and art. But I think my favourite find so far is by students Joseph Mallock and Ian Hattwick, as they use 3D printed prosthetics to create digital musical instruments worn and played by dancers. Surreal? A mere gimmick? Who knows. To the average 16th Century musician or dancer, I am sure headphones and mixers would have seemed just as impossible and strange, yet they have become a major part of creating music in our lifetimes.

Who knows if 3D printing will be the next big thing or just a small, significant but barely noticed blip in the history of 21st Century innovation – a modern day ‘Penny Farthing’? It remains unclear. But it’s given me an awful lot to think about. And I kind of like the art.

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