Sampled stuff

What happens when you ask artists and designers to experiment with cutting-edge technology with a view to discovering a new aesthetic? Trish Lorenz gets
a sneak preview of insects scanned in 3D and other quirky delights for an upcoming show

Digital Explorers: Discovery, an exhibition that opens at London’s Metropolitan Works next month, features work by nine artists and designers, among them luminaries such as Antony Gormley and Tord Boontje and studios including Timorous Beasties and Committee. Each participant was asked to experiment with Metropolitan Works’ digital design equipment and the result is a diverse range of projects, some crawling with patterns, others fused and sculptural, all managing to transcend the boundaries between the hand-crafted and the digital age.

Many of the participants came to the project new to the technology and used the opportunity to experiment with materials. Scottish design group Timorous Beasties is known for its provocative textiles and wallpapers, but this exhibition sees the designers using a laser cutter for the first time and etching a series of tessellating patterns on to the surfaces of bricks.

Painter Guy Beggs’ piece Fallen Leaves is a three-dimensional development of a painting inspired by the sight of fragile leaves trapped in a steel grid. Built entirely in nylon, it demonstrates the surprisingly delicate effects that can be achieved using rapid prototyping.

Boontje has worked with rapid prototyping before and experimented here with 3D scanning. His stainless steel stereo speakers swarm with insects and flowers, surreal yet beautiful. Boontje scanned real plants and insects and then digitally sampled, cut, mixed, enlarged and rearranged them to create the decoration for these fully functioning speakers. ‘There’s an analogy with music – taking samples of existing things,’ he says of the design. ‘It’s amazing to see the finished product and the level of detail. You can’t imagine how it could have been made in a traditional way; it defies logic.’ The challenge in working digitally is to be neither constrained nor intimidated by the technology, says Boontje. ‘You have to forget about traditional methods of building an object and be flexible, but at the same time you don’t want the technology to lead the aesthetics, otherwise you end up with a computer-generated look,’ he says.

Metropolitan Works centre manager Matthew Lewis says the exhibition shows that digital technology offers a real creative outlet. ‘Technology comes into its own when given to creative people who are interested in exploring the new languages that come out of it,’ he says. ‘Experimenting with this new technology has influenced not only how things are made but also what is made. The pieces have a new dimension in terms of how the designers have thought and worked.’

The exhibition, designed by graphics consultancy Oscar & Ewan, is part of a launch programme for Metropolitan Works’ new £4.5m Creative Industries Centre, which opens on 4 February. Created by architect Cartwright Pickard, the 1100m2 centre will offer creative businesses access to manufacturing and prototyping across a wide range of digital technology, including a large five-axis router and water cutter, 3D printing, laser sintering, rapid prototyping and 3D scanning technologies. A range of training courses, talks and workspaces are also available on a pay-and-go basis.

Digital Explorers: Discovery runs at Metropolitan Works, 41 Commercial Road (Weyhill Road entrance), London E1 from 9 February to 12 March

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