When 3D printing meets the fine arts, we revisit the question of the role of reproduction in art, and the role of art in the age of "mechanical reproduction" as it was termed in a famous 1936 essay by Walter Benjamin (The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction). Pop Art and Dadaism are two modern art movements that play very much with the concept of the value of art when it is a multiple, and thus they lend themselves well to artists today who are experimenting with 3D printing new versions of the works from these movements.
Rob Myers, a self-defined artist, writer and hacker who collaborated with Charlotte Frost on her #arthistory project, has been playing with 3D printed multiples of famous conceptual works of art. His 'Pipe' clearly recalls Magritte, while the 'Urinal' is a replica of Duchamp's Dadaist masterpiece.
These and 'Balloon Dog' were all developed in 2012, "shareable DIY 'readymades' for an era of digital copying and sharing." In Spring 2013 his Urinal model was printed by Chicago-based 3D Printer Experience, a retail space designed to give users access to desktop and professional printers. Myers comments that this kind of use of his file is exactly what he had hoped for.
The deeper thought behind this gesture is explained by art theorist Charlotte Frost, who writes (on Furtherafield.org):
"Rob Myers takes iconic works from the art history of ‘readymades’ and converts them into publicly available source files. In this remake, works are stripped back to the literal and metaphorical code of Duchamp’s initial gesture – but do not be fooled, this is precisely where the ‘makerly’ is remade too, in the careful craftsmanship of modelling and coding these works. But if code itself is too minimalist for you, he has also connected the files with real-world 3D printers, so you can order your own ‘readymade’, readymade, in a variety of materials and finishes."
While Myers' work has yet to be displayed in a major museum - and that is not his point - a recent installation at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh (PA), in collaboration with Materialise, adds to the question of what it looks like when you mix 3D printing with work intended to question the value of the multiple. The installation, Factory 2.0, with Warhol-inspired multiples, was put on in conjunction with the opening of RAPID 2013 Additive Manufacturing Conference & Expo. At the same time, there were exhibited five finalists from the i.materialise Andy Warhol Contest.
The exhibit was curated by Murray Moss. The first section, Fright Wig, establishes an intersection of Andy Warhol's now-iconic innovations in 'Factory Art' and today's new additive manufacturing art-making possibilities. Highlighting Warhol's obsession with celebrity and celebrity culture, which arguably manifests itself most in his self-portraits, the gallery featured the artist's enormous Self-Portrait (Fright Wig), 1986, among the very last works he executed himself. 3D printed reproductions of the wig were also hung, under which gallery-goers could photograph themselves, which were printed by Materialise in translucent resin, using their proprietary Mammoth Stereolithography technology. These machines are able to create objects of up to 2100x680x800mm in a single print.
Works by young artists involved in the Warhol-inspiration contest sponsored by the Belgian house are very interesting. The first place winner, Emanuele Niri, made a Tomato Paint Soup, about which curator Moss comments: "Warhol's use of mass commercialization of food products as a subject for art has since his time, exploded, as this work metaphorically expresses; the potential power of a mass brand knows no boundaries and can no longer be contained."
Another finalist is “Speaking into the Microphone” candle holders by Luigi Vaghi, who recorded the words 'Andy Warhol' and printed the sound waves (a trick we've kinda seen before). The result is, however, particularly attractive thanks to the resin printing.
We also have “Double Elvis” by Dominik Raskin, “Cowbox” by Thomas Cornelis and “Trash Can” by Cathrien Orie, which implies that the symbolic object of today's mass culture is the trash that we both consume and throw out.
Cornelis, whose Cowbox is amongst the finalist projects, reflects on how much Warhol would have liked 3D printing: "In his factory years he mass-produced artworks using his famous silkscreen technique. He tried to eliminate the artist's 'craftsmanship' and 'personality' during the process."
Quite possibly, with the smoothness and high resolution of Painted Stereolithography, we are getting close to this strange ideal of art that lacks the hand of the artist, but when it comes to personality, I, for one, disagree - see this detail for example:
It's clear that there is art in it. If there were no challenge involved in designing for 3D printing, Materialise and the curator would not have had much upon which to judge their contest. 3D printing is not, in any way, about eliminating the artist or his or her hand. By the contrary, especially with desktop printers, a lot of individual personality shows through, even in the simplest of designs, like in the Block Light - designer Stefano Giovacchini says he deliberately works with the marks of the low resolution printer. We at MakeTank emphasize the role of the Maker in every product, for it's not just the object but the story behind it that is important. The iconic pop art of Andy Warhol will forever be associated with that artist's name, eccentric character and unique creativity, despite attempts to erase himself from the multiple using technology. Had Warhol had a 3D printer, the result would be the same.
On one hand, the 3D printer used by artists is just another tool, one that opens up some new roads and also inserts some new limitations. On the other, it poses interesting questions, especially if inserted into the world of creative commons and open source as is the case with the projects by Myers. We find ourselves at the beginning of a question about the value and reception of art in this new world in which I can print off a Dadaist readymade at home; a world that Gutenberg opened up with the printing press, that Benjamin explored within the increasing quality of lithography and photographic prints.
What are the questions we ought to be asking ourselves at this point?