While previous exhibitions from the National Centre for Craft & Design (NCCD) have tended to focus on traditional art forms such as tapestry weaving, the centre is looking to broaden its horizons with its latest offering – 3D Printing: The Good, The Bad and The Beautiful.
The exhibition offers an insight into the complex social, political and environmental issues surrounding 3D printing, including the role of the designer with a technology that is openly available to anyone.
Designed to be a fully immersive experience for visually impaired audiences, the exhibition has been co-curated by the NCCD head of exhibitions Bryony Windsor and the University of Lincoln’s Professor Anne Chick.
We spoke to Windsor to find out more about the exhibition.
Design Week: Why did you want to put on an exhibition about 3D printing?
Bryony Windsor: Since we’re the National Centre for Craft & Design we do tend to steer more towards craft, and that is where my skill set lies. I wanted to challenge myself – as well as the venue – and put on a design-based exhibition which would include things that aren’t all high-end art objects.
DW: What is the idea behind it?
BW: A lot of people think that 3D printing is quite futuristic but actually it is all happening now. The exhibition is looking at what it might be like in the future, as well as the unreal expectations and hype around it.
The reason it’s called The Good, The Bad and The Beautiful is because there are beautiful things that are being 3D-printed, but it does also look at the social side, such as the fact that anyone can technically get a printer and be creative. The “bad” elements are things like the safety implications of somebody 3D printing a bicycle helmet at home without it being safety tested, intellectual property, being able to create guns or knives, and bio-printing.
DW: What was your process when selecting which designers and exhibits to include?
BW: I started with what I knew, which is the art pieces. Then it was a six-month research project to find who was working in other fields like conservation. Some people – such as Danit Peleg, who designed a 3D-printed dress for Paralympian Amy Purdy during the games’ opening ceremony – were in the press because 3D printing is big at the moment, while other people were more under the radar.
DW: Can you give some examples of the designers included?
BW: We’ve got people like Richard Arm, a research fellow at Nottingham Trent University, who has designed a 3D-printed heart and lung. He’s had to go through a process of research and development to make sure that they function as a working pulmonary system.
Byron Colman has done a project about repair – he’s got this repair chair. It’s basically an old chair with a broken leg, and rather than botch it together or repair the leg in a traditional way, he has created a 3D-printed leg which has been designed with animals on it. It makes a new piece completely different to what it was first designed to look like, but you can still sit on it and it still works.
DW: How does the exhibition explore the role of the designer specifically?
BW: We’re largely showcasing people who are using 3D printing as their sole practice, and not as a means to an end. But there is also a maker movement which suggests that anybody can design and make using a 3D printer.
One of the good aspects of this idea is that it is empowering, but the negative side is that designers are spending months designing a piece and then people think, “I could just print that at home” or “what’s to stop me from doing it?” The answer is, well you couldn’t.
We’re trying to champion that it doesn’t matter what medium you work in, 3D printing is another tool in your box, and it takes as long for you to master it as it would to become a ceramicist or a glass artist.
DW: What can visitors expect from the design of the exhibition space?
BW: The exhibition is in partnership with the University of Lincoln, and has been designed as a testbed for people to come and tell us what they think about 3D printing, but also how their experience of the gallery has changed.
A lot of the exhibits are either verbal or touchable, because the exhibition has been curated to be as accessible as possible for the visually impaired, which is an audience that is often left out of visual arts venues.
Visitors follow a road of tiles around the space, and each exhibit will have a stop section. They can put their hands out and feel symbols, which indicate whether there is an audio descriptor, something to touch such as 3D-printed replicas of what is on display, or whether the gallery assistant is able to explain it.
DW: What do you want visitors to take away from the exhibition?
BW: I want them to feel that it is accessible; that’s the main thing. I would hate for people to go away and think “I don’t understand what 3D printing is”.
There are questions to go with all of the exhibits which are there to challenge people, but they are not art-based questions. Instead, they ask things like “Is it ethical to 3D print drugs?” It is really accessible to children, older people, everybody really.
I want people to delve into the good, the bad and the beautiful, and understand how vibrant 3D printing is.
3D Printing: The Good, The Bad and The Beautiful will run from 28 January – 23 April 2017 at The National Centre for Craft & Design, Sleaford, Lincolnshire NG34 7TW. Visit the website for more information.