iMAL Art Center for Digital Cultures & Technology
Tools for Things and Ideas.
Let’s break it down: a tool is a device used to carry out a particular function; a thing is an object that one need not, cannot, or does not wish to give a specific name to; an idea is a thought or a suggestion as to a possible course of action. What can happen when these three elements are combined, thrown up in the air, torn apart, hacked, recombined, played with, redefined, repurposed, observed, explored, questioned? Can we change the utilitarian, purposeful attitude we have towards them by changing the way we call them, use them, and consequently understand them?
Over the course of three years, a group of artists, researchers and designers have been invited by Formlab at KASK (Gent) to experiment with 3d technologies and media. Hacking the classical production process at any stage, or hacking the machines themselves, creativity found cracks and slipped through, made space, wandered and landed on the unexpected.
With a playful spirit and a taste for the pleasures of experimentation, artists, makers and researchers alike explored and articulated the relationship between user and tool in such a variety of ways that one could wonder where the limit is - if such a thing as a limit exists. Could the limit be the technology? If so, they changed it, pushed it, and innovated it. They stripped the tools of their particular functions. They created new things and new ideas.
In a time when everything must be useful and effective, in a world where productivity is the main parameter of evaluation, in a society that glorifies new technologies as the Holy Grail, Tools for Things and Ideas ran in the opposite direction.
Sometimes innocently, sometimes naively, sometimes deliberately mocking the capitalistic cycle of production and consumption, the works presented stand as heralds of a something else, a somewhere else, where one can choose to stop, experiment, play, laugh. Jeer at what’s out there. And why not, invent new tools for new things and new ideas.
Amandine David and Esmé Hofman
Building on Amandine David’s and Esmé Hofman ongoing practice-based research on the crossing between traditional crafts and digital practices, Hybrid Crafts investigates the building element of weaving and 3d printing - the thread / the filament - to explore possibilities for hybrid manufacturing processes.
A classic 3d printing filament in PLA, a biomaterial obtained from corn, is tinted with algae-based pigment and woven with weaving natural fibers, in a process that deliberately appropriate and repurpose the materials into new creation processes.
By excluding the machine and focusing on the material, the duo creates a space for new endeavours in traditional Belgian craftsmanship.
A small, organic backbox is resting on the shelf. What does it contain? What story, what information is it preserving?
In Bee Torrent, Jerry Galle exploits the bees’ ability to cover any beehive intruder or unwanted object with propolis to seal and sterilise it as a means to insure the wellbeing of the colony.
In this research project, a 3d printed small cube containing a dead bee is placed in a beehive and regularly rotated so that the insects initiate and carefully continue the propolis sealing process, plastering the unwanted object, smoothing out edges and surfaces.
The object then becomes a sealed vessel, the result of a two-parts process in which the man-made is completed by a methodical instinctive animal behaviour, preserving the bee’s DNA for an unknown future.
Dirk Paesmans - JODI
Web Art pioneering collective JODI has been around since 1994, working mostly on internet-based projects.
213D is a web-based collection of 3D scans, tidily organised in chapters, portraying spaces, places, and people. The visitors are invited to explore the collection at their own pace and following their own interest, without a precise path to follow, browsing aimlessly in the website as they would do in a museum or art gallery.
The 3D scans, made by the artists themselves, look unfinished, raw, unpolished.
While these unique images allow the artists to freeze certain moments in time, their rough texture and blank parts seem to be left there to underline the limits of the technology itself, in a conflictual relationship between machine dream and its limitations.
Elias Heuninck and Emi Kodama
“Like many of us, the island longs to go somewhere warm,” begins the voiceover. When the island heads out on vacation, it leaves behind a doppelganger to preserve the coastal landscape. The objects presented in the installation were found as stowaways in a 3D printer. Excess wax and resin are deposited in a drawer at the bottom of the printer. Molten waste material, solidified and clumped together when cooled, are ancient stalagmites in a high-tech machine. Because they were objects without intent nor a digital source file, they were given both. The surfaces were 3D-scanned and scaled to become immaterial islands, protagonists of this video.
Laboratorium & Elias Heuninck
Probably the most emblematic object of a bio lab, the Petri dish is a shallow transparent lidded dish that biologists use to hold a growth medium in which cells can be cultured. But what else can one do in this small, round container? The possibilities are endless.
In this collaborative research between Elias Heuninck (FormLab) and Maria Boto (BioLab), a selection of processes happening in a Petri dish are filmed and presented as capsules, testimonies of the experiments they carried out.
Faro: (showing the Belousov-Zhabotinsky Oscillating Reaction)
The Belousov-Zhabotinsky reactions between two chemicals are among the few reactions that make it possible to observe development of complex patterns in time and space by naked eye. In Faro, an hypnotic dance of red and white shapes, reminiscent of ancient Japanese ink drawings, takes the viewer by surprise with its delicate yet obstinate patterns of repetition and change.
A topography of mountains, ridges and valleys, rising from a colourful mold resembling an aerial view of a dramatic mountain range. A slow panoramic of an imaginary world, where white dots bloom into fluffy puffs.
In La Bahia, a photograph of a lab-grown mold is used to trace a height map, which is then 3d printed and re-injected with the mold’s spores, closing the circle.
Playing with the optical property of different compounds under double polarised light, Salitre shows the beauty of growing birefringent crystals. Their refractive index depends on the polarization and propagating direction of light, allowing for mesmerising visual experiences. As the solution evaporates, the crystals appear with bright colours, revealing growth patterns and structures.
AI Object Recognition
A meme-trained AI looks at 3d printed sculptures and generates texts worthy of the most delirious, cryptic poet the whole internet can produce. Is it a joke? An experiment? Or maybe a dive into the arbitrary and obtuse incapacity of so-called artificial intelligence?
AI Object Recognition playfully subverts the codes of the artspeak by pairing objects and words, both created by machines more or less intentionally “directed” by the artist.
At times hilarious, at times Dadaist, the texts reveal the limits imposed by the intrinsic complexity of the machine, which turns out to be more crippling than enabling.
A tri-composed installation brings together multiple projects and axes of research, visualising through videos and objects the hidden process of life, the economy of making and exchanging, quivering below the surface.
Pepa Ivanova gathers and waves together a two-channel video installation and a constellation of 3D printed objects combined with hair or human teeth, glitter powder with glass beads, copper infused or fluorescent plastic. Originally part of the Evolution Game project, these objects are representative of her research on the role of light in evolution, and are inscribed in a broader discourse around what the artist calls “light economy”, the life system in which light functions as the ultimate currency.
In this perspective, the deliberate use of plastic appears as a statement, a frank confession of the point we got to, a perennial trace of mankind's evolution on the planet.
Small Scale Printing
An experimental endeavour in size and scale: how small can one go with a machine?
With a print volume of 2.5 x 2,5 x 2.5 mm and a definition of 0,001 mm, this micron scale 3D printer is one of a kind.
Swinging between the practical and the useless, the very serious and the nonsense, the machine’s work can be seen only through another machine or tool, like a camera or a magnifying glass.
Julien Maire’s research project aims at investigating the possibility of production of the machine itself through alternative systems, fixed with feedback control and software correction.
Focusing on low cost elements and slow processes, the artists discards mainstream processes and puts into question more high-tech production operations.
Electromagnetic fields are a combination of invisible electric and magnetic fields of force. They are generated by natural phenomena like the Earth’s magnetic field, but also by human activities, mainly through the use of electricity.
Using a coil microphone, artist Jerry Galle recorded the electromagnetic fields of several different machines used in FormLab. Through this approach, he built a collection of buzzes, vibrations, white and unsettling noises that create a new way of experiencing the space, the materiality and the actions of the machines themselves.
By translating the magnetic fields into sounds, something inaccessible to human perception becomes suddenly experienceable, revealing one of the many invisible forces around us.
Kamiel de Waal
Playing on the line of uselessness, Kamiel de Waal’s research at FormLab focuses on the fakeness of 3d printed objects, which, despite being objects, seem simple representations, mere attempts of objects.
The easiness of this production process, condensed in a short hour working on a computer programming the 3d printing, triggers a wider reflection on more classical production processes - molding, casting, carving. Is time necessary to create a “good” sculpture?
The 3d printed/sculpted objects, in an array of declinations, become the sublimation of this sarcastic look on goodness, quality, bad versus good taste, time-consuming production vs immediacy, and question the sense of artistic value itself.
Oscillating between pure experimentation and a critical approach to historical political discourse, Lisa Wilkens twists the 3D printing process - literally - at its base.
By placing book linen on the printer’s hot bed, and slightly moving it during the printing process, the political words and slogan printed get twisted in a curious dialogue between textures, materials, and reliefs.
What’s meant to be flat, 2 dimensional, such as printed words, is taken out of the page to be placed on a new material surface, and it’s given thickness in a symbolic gesture, as to suggest the relevance that such words had in the collective life of our society.
Floor Vanden Berghe
In an attempt to establish a dialogue between his canary and a machine, Floor Vandenberghe activates a 3D printer for the set of sounds that its stepper motors make while moving, making these noises - instead of a specific design - the main driver for the machine’s movements.
By applying memetic algorithms, a nature-inspired technique based on evolutionary computation that mimics the metaphor of biological evolution, six sequences of synthesized sounds are generated every day, learning on the bird’s reaction of the preceding day. Will the machine be able to mimic the canary’s singing? Will it learn, or will it fail? Whether the experiment will work or not, the 3d printed trace of this effort will remain as a testimony of the endeavour.
Repetition legitimizes (until failure)
Floor Vanden Berghe
In a process of alteration and modification, Floor Vanden Berghe replaced, added, repurposed and filmed a 3d printer in an almost voyeuristic way, sardonically looking at its sudden purposelessness.
After replacing the machine’s printing bed with a computer screen, Floor added a camera observing the printing process from the machine’s point of view, while showing the live camera feed on the screen, creating a feedback loop.
Meanwhile, an object detection algorithm struggles to recognise common objects in the resulting images: when it succeeds, the 3D-printer adjusts its behaviour, modifying the sequences it prints, modifying the feedback loop.
Like a dog biting its tail, the machine aimlessly continues looping, while we wait for the final moment, the failure, the depletion.
Maria Boto & Heleen Sintobin – Laboratorium
Structural colours are made of microscopically structured surfaces in layers thin enough to interfere with visible light. In nature these structures are made of simple biological elements such as cellulose, chitin, keratin, and the pigment melanin. It is the latter - melanin - that Maria Boto decided to use to investigate the potential of structural colours applied to artistic creation. Together with designer Heleen Sintobin, they started experimenting with the creation of synthetic melanin based structures that, thanks to their granular form, can create bright structural colour when interacting with light.
In the samples presented, a thin film over multiple layers of synthetic melanin are overlapped on paper, ceramic, textile, aluminium, glass and plastic bases, to achieve enough thickness to generate gradients of iridescent colours that mutate with the changing light. With rear lighting they will look dark and pale brown; if the light is right above, the colours will be bright and warm, and when the light is frontal, the colours are bright and cool.