The first project that employs 3D printing technology, Print On Demand, led the translation of the “ready-made” into its digital counterparts in the 21st Century and examined the process of a mere thing becoming an artwork. The project’s name is a pun on the name of German artist and photographer Thomas Demand, who successfully translates photography into sculpture and vice versa. Demand meticulously creates cardboard models of real spaces, photographs them and then destroys the models, leaving a photograph behind which, through a careful choice of scale and framing, inherits the ambiguity of space as “real” and “not-real”. Instead of producing laborious paper sculptures, the pictorial space in Print On Demand is entirely constructed from 3D prints of everyday objects, found in diverse online communities, which are *made ready to be printed on demand. One of the largest online exchanges for ready-to-print 3D models is Thingiverse.
This process enables the creation of simulacral spaces, like those of Demand, but without a painstaking sculpting process. None of the models were either designed or printed by the author. While in Demand’s photos, the simulacrum is created through the ambiguity between the original and the copy, in *Print On Demand* resulting objects and photos convey the notion of a simulacral copy, a copy without the original. This simulacral quality is achieved through the choice of 3D models (similar to Duchamp’s ready-made), which, when printed in 3D, exhibit different transformations despite going through the same process.
A 3D-printed model of a pencil retains the form of the pencil and, at the same time, loses the ability to leave a trace on a surface due to its sensitivity regarding the printing material. This transfiguration is typical for representational art, where the formal similarly ensures the recognition of the context while the art object is stripped of its mundane function. A 3D printed model of a pencil sharpener, formally identical to the mere sharpener, is closer to Duchamp’s found object since the sturdiness of plastic retains the ability of the sharpener to sharpen the pencil.
A 3D-printed model of an iPhone obviously cannot be used to dwell on the Internet and could be understood as a representation. During the author’s detoxification from smartphone addiction, the 3D printed model was used as a substitute, worn in the pocket, calming the panic of inability to be online, with its meaning oscillating between artwork and therapeutic tool.
The 3D printing process introduces instability or even undecidability of what is coming out of a 3D printer. “Print” in its name suggests it is a print, an image, even a photograph, a straightforward, well-defined, and determined translation of a digitally sculpted or algorithmically produced model into a physical world. At the same time, “3D” points to its nature as a thing, an object, doing something else than merely “representing”. In this sense, 3D printing technology acts as “pharmakon”, resisting the resolution of image/thing contradiction through sublation into the higher synthesis. It enables understanding 3D print as both image and the thing, a material articulation of the ana-material difference in its four-dimensionality.
Embedded in the real environment 3D prints blend in and yet stay recognisable as such, embodying its simulacral nature of being thing and the image at the same time.
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