The other day I finally got a chance to head over to the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) to check out their exhibit on digital design and fabrication, entitled Out of Hand: Materializing the Postdigital, which I had been dying to see for some time. This show is absolutely inspiring, a must see for any aspiring computational designer. With its combined emphasis on algorithmic computation and material experimentation, the exhibition provides ample examples of what happens when scripting and sculpture go hand in hand.
The digital revolution that opened the computer age is over. The amazing digital achievements of the last few decades are now taken for granted – reflecting a critical shift in thinking that has ushered in the postdigital era. In the world of art and design, discourse is no longer preoccupied with the technology in and of itself. Rather, interest lies in how technology may be creatively applied in the interplay between digital and analog, natural and man-made, biological and cultural, virtual and real. 
– Wall Text at the Museum of Arts and Design, Out of Hand: Materializing the Postdigital
The exhibit focuses primarily on three digital fabrication techniques: 3d printing, CNC-milling, and digital weaving. 3d printing made up the largest portion of the collection, which is fitting considering the hype surrounding the technology. The exhibit even includes an interactive workshop, with 3d printers, computers, and designers from Shapeways on hand to demonstrate the technology. Several projects, such as Softkill Design’s Prototype for a 3d Printed House and Joris Laarman’s aptly named Bone Armchair, display the characteristic organic curves typical of structural optimization. Others, such as Aranda/Lasch’s 20 Bridges for Central Park and KiLight by Francois Brument and Sonia Laugier, demonstrate the potential of rapid prototyping technology to produce variation, the latter using a Microsoft Kinect device to generate permutations of lampshades based on the user’s hand gestures and the color of their clothes. Speaking of clothes, digital design and fabrication methods are also being applied in the fashion industry, including such wearable designs as Michael Schmidt and Francis Bitoni’s 3d printed dress for Dita Von Teese and Nike’s digitally-woven athletic shoes.
What is fascinating about these technologies is that their capacity for mass customization has in many cases completely redefined the notion of the authorship in art and design. This has significant market implications for a number of design fields, as evidenced by the success of Shapeways. Certainly there are objects on the 3d printing marketplace which, to borrow an idea from Mario Carpo, remain “identical copies” of an author’s original design . But rather than simply providing designers with another platform for selling their creations, Shapeways also handles the manufacture and distribution services, allowing individuals to make money simply by modeling and uploading their designs digitally. At the MAD interactive workshop a variety of available materials were on display, ranging from stainless steel and sterling silver to full color sandstone and ceramics. If the range of materials and designs to choose from isn’t enough to select from, the site also makes it easy for buyers to design their own objects, bridging the gap between designer and consumer.
Shapeways’ presence at the exhibition was particularly interesting to me as a libertarian concerned with the market implications of 3d printing technology. The exhibition has something for everybody, from architects and designers of all sorts to programmers and other technology nerds to entrepreneurs interested in the future of manufacturing. Heck, you really don’t need to know anything about design or digital fabrication to have your mind blown at the Museum of Arts and Design.
- “Out of Hand: Materializing the Postdigital.” Museum of Arts and Design. 2 Columbus Circle, New York, NY. 12/18/2013.
- Mario Carpo, The Alphabet and the Algorithm (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2011), IX