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Digital Fabrication Like You’ve Never Seen It

A new exhibition, Out of Hand, provides an expansive look toward our fabricated future

By Bryn Smith, Superscript October 25, 2013

When it comes to digital fabrication with today’s cutting-edge technology, the possibilities are seemingly endless, encompassing everything from machine-knit wool to intricate pixelated building facades. Consumer-grade 3D printers like MakerBot have become household names, and often dominate the conversation around how such innovation will affect society. Picking up and expanding on this trend, a new exhibition at New York’s Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) explores a wider range of technologies and clears the air surrounding our fabricated future. With works by contemporary designers, architects, and artists who utilize computer-assisted production, Out of Hand: Materializing the Postdigital presents an engaging and educational survey designed to raise questions and spark dialogue between viewers and the objects themselves.

J. Mayer H.'s Metropol Parasol, Seville, Spain, 2011. © J. Mayer H., Fernando Alda, David Fuande

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Spanning three modes of fabrication—3D printing, CNC machining, and digital knitting and weaving—the exhibition combines the expected chairs, shoes, and chandeliers with more fantastical sculptural pieces such as Barry X Ball’s golden honeycomb calcite bust, Leonor Caraballo, and Abou Farman’s wearable bronze casts of cancer scans, and Maya Lin’s plaster Imaginary Iceberg. Architectural works, including Mass Studies light up Korea Pavilion and J. Mayer H. Architects’ impressive Metropol Parasol, are limited to video projections.

“The compelling new works in Out of Hand expand audience understanding of the ways artists and designers are utilizing these new technologies to extend their artistic practice,” said curator Ronald T. Labaco. “Revealing how these innovations are also transforming practices in manufacturing, healthcare, and other fields not readily associated with the contemporary art world.”

Sculptures by Roxy Paine. © Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Labaco created thought-provoking juxtapositions throughout the show, pairing works like Dirk Vander Kooij’s Endless Pulse Low Chair, made from a continuous, controlled strip of recycled plastic, next to amorphous maroon sculptures by Roxy Paine. The interplay between the two challenges perceptions of digital production, showing not only variety in the processes, but flexibility and the visible touch of each creator. Organic and natural-looking works are proven as achievable as their rectilinear counterparts. In fact, it is the pieces that don’t look “digital” at all, such as Anish Kapoor’s barnacle-like concrete models, that succeed in resetting our understanding of what is possible with this emerging technology.

Unfold's virtual pottery wheel, L'Artisan Electronique. © Unfold

Out of Hand also includes several interactive installations aiming to reveal the process of digital fabrication. Unfold’s virtual pottery wheel, L'Artisan Electronique, allows visitors to reach out across a small table and “mold” clay as a digitally projected vessel spins on a nearby surface. François Brument’s voice-activated vase maker responds to loud, soft, low, or high sounds to shape a digital vase.

Online 3D-printing marketplace, Shapeways, is given considerable space in the exhibition. Visitors can have themselves scanned by standing on a super-sized lazy Susan and uploaded to the company’s website. A detailed 3D replica an later be printed from Shapeways’ website in a variety of material choices from stainless steel to alumide for a small fee.

Barry X Ball's Envy, 2008-2010, left. Dirk Vander Kooij's Endless Pulse Low Chair, right. © Barry X Ball and Dirk Vander Kooij

Viewed as a whole, Out of Hand illustrates the vast potential of new fabrication technologies to extend architecture, design, and artistic practice. Perhaps more importantly, the exhibition will greatly expand the public’s understanding and acceptance of this developing field.

Out of Hand: Materializing the Postdigital is on view through July 6, 2014 at the Museum of Art and Design, 2 Columbus Circle, New York.

Mass Studies' Korea Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo, 2010. © Mass Studies

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