London's inaugural 3D Print Show recently launched, showcasing plenty of eye-opening technologies and products - including the European debuts of MakerBot's Replicator 2 and Formlabs' Form 1 desktop 3D printers, a live catwalk show featuring 3D-printed fashion, and Softkill Design’s eyebrow-raising fibrous ProtoHouse. But the pieces that made the most lasting impression weren't on the trade show floor, but in the downstairs art gallery. Among the works by conceptual artists and designers in the group exhibition were several that had a poetic quality, offering not just examples of technical prowess but commentary on the 3D printing process and the current state of technology in our lives. Read on for our favorites!
Made from laser-sintered polyamide, Kinesis is a “wearable sculpture” by London- and Berlin-based Daniel Widrig that treats the body like a landscape, wrapping and undulating around its form. With a clear nod to the artist and designer’s training as an architect, including several years with Zaha Hadid Architects, the sculpture plays with the ideas of architecture, jewelry and fashion. The pieces were seamlessly created with selective laser sintering (SLS), in which a high-power laser fuses particles of powder (in this case polyamide) together to form a solid mass.
Virtual City by Sang Un Jeon speaks to the way in which we interact with the real and virtual worlds. Even as we live more of our lives online, technologies like Google Earth allow us to explore physical places without ever leaving our computers. In Virtual City, a computer keyboard is the setting for a cityscape of 3D-printed buildings, with the keyboard letters corresponding to some of the Internet’s largest communities. The estimated unique monthly visitors of the websites determined the heights of the buildings. W is for Wikipedia. E is for eBay. We would have reserved I for Inhabitat, of course, but IMDB is pretty cool, too.
Trained in studio pottery, artist Jonathan Keep pushes the boundaries of his medium with 3D-printed ceramics. The organic, coral-like shapes of the Random Growth series are inspired by the growth patterns of natural structures like stalactites or ant hills, which have an underlying logic paired with randomness. The artist scripted a generative algorithm that mimics the effect, and the code determines the shape of the pieces.
A similar approach is used for Keep’s Sound Surfaces series, which consists of physical representations of digital music recordings. A pixel is coded in virtual space to spiral, with a three-dimensional computer mesh eventually forming the basic shape of the vase or vessel. Data from digitally recorded songs add texture to the virtual mesh, with the tone and rhythm determining the ultimate surface of the 3D-printed ceramic object. Keep taught himself how to code, seeing it as another form of making.
Francesca Smith’s Memento recreates classic designs from the Victorian era with modern 3d-printing technology. Exploring the Victorian era’s attitudes toward rituals associated with mourning and contrasting them with our current day approach, she created a collection of jewelry that combines rapid-prototyped nylon hands with textiles and human hair. The juxtaposition of hard and soft materials is a recurring theme in her work.
Michael Eden’s Bloom was eye-catching for both its neon hue and shape. The shape references antique ceramics and classic decorative forms, but it’s made through a process of additive layer manufacturing with a nylon material and a mineral soft coating.
Eden, one of the early explorers of 3D printing’s potential for artwork, often marries traditional craft skills and digital technology, referencing Wedgwood ceramics in his pieces and working with unfired ceramic materials. He’s currently a research fellow at the Manchester Institute for Research and Innovation in Art and Design (MIRIAD), where he conducts research on digital forming, including 3D printing.
For SAVE AS, Israeli curator Maya Ben David called for designers from around the world to submit their impressions of the Arab Spring. Exploring the nature of collective memory and human experience, the collection includes five 3D-printed objects that embody the designers’ online experiences of the events.
Tahrir Rolling by Dan Hochberg and Roi Vaspi Yanai incorporates a map of Cairo’s Tahrir Square on the surface of a rolling-pin, bringing together major events and daily needs. Fragile Desire by Munich-based Umur Sener uses connected Arabic patterns to create the shape of a Coca Cola bottle, a symbol of Western values. The curator believes that designers are the natural bridge between the digital and the physical.
We spotted Matthew Plummer-Fernandez’s fantastic, pseudo-fractal 3D-printed bowls last month at the London Design Festival. For the 3D Print Show, he unveiled his stunningly colorful Digital Natives series, incorporating a print-in-color process and software 3D interface he developed himself.
Everyday objects like watering cans, spray bottles and toys were 3D scanned using a digital camera, and then their shapes were distorted and abstracted, or remixed, according to various algorithms, rendering the forms almost unrecognizable. Plummer-Fernandez clearly remembers the first time he grasped 3D-printing’s infinite possibilities. He was reading “Infinite Music: Imagining the Next Millennium of Human Music-Making” by Adam Harper, and was struck the author’s description of the boundless nature of music — and realized that infinite potential also applied to 3D technology.
Long heralded in tech and design circles as the ultimate tool for sustainable design and production, 3D printing seems to have exploded this year in the mainstream consciousness. Four thousand people attended the London show, exceeding organizers’ expectations. Held at The Brewery in Central London October 19-21 2012, the inaugural 3D Print Show included demonstrations and exhibitions from 3D printing services like i.materialise, as well as a whole area devoted to demonstrations of show partner MakerBot’s Replicator 2 desktop 3D printer. The 3D Print Show travels to Paris and New York before returning to London in 2013.
Photos by Charlene Lam for Inhabitat