learning from touch with identical artifacts,

When models are shared on 3D-sharing sites like the Thingiverse, they become ”social objects.” “Social objects are the engines of socially networked experiences, the content around which conversation happens”

 I feel that the openness with which 3-d replicas are spoken about in the Turkel¶ Elliot, and Neely readings, indicative in a general change in perspective among researchers, scholars and museum educators/exhibition designers/ archivists/ curators. It is important to engage a visitor with the physical space in which he/she finds him/herself. In terms of whether or not a 3-D object can aid learning, I feel I must introduce the idea of disability accessibility. Most museums that I have been in have accessibility programs for people with low vision, blindness or communication impairments. Communication can be aided through touch. If you cannot see a screen, how would you interact with it? Similarly, every person–irregardless of having a diagnosis of any kind or not–learns differently. 

The idea that engagement with 3-D modeling is made possible at a relatively affordable price and that art objects and artifacts may be reproduced and touched, turned over and held, opens possibilities for discussion on how to guide humanities education. I am often surprised when after learning about an artwork in class I then find it again in a museum or gallery and find that there are significant differences in size and quality. Projections do not cut it. 

Walter Benjamin’s essay on the Age of Mechanical Reproduction was not written in an epoch when reproduction could herald the exact twin of the original.

Eco on Fakes

The discussion about 3D printing reminds me of an old essay by Italian semiologist Umberto Eco. In his 1986 essay “Faith in Fakes” (included in Travels in HyperReality), Eco states that “the American imagination demands the real thing and, to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake.” His examples include the Lyndon B. Johnson Library, where ‘the past must be preserved and celebrated in full-scale authentic copy,’ heritage villages, the Madonna Inn, seven wax versions of Leonardo’s Last Supper, William Randolph Hearst’s museum-castle (the Xanadu of Orson Welles’ film Citizen Kane) and Disneyland, the home of the ‘total fake.’

Perhaps 3D printing technology makes “seeing and knowing through making” (the transformative principle of contemporary digital culture) literal to the point that the fake, the copy that we can manipulate may acquire more functional, practical, or epistemological value than the original artifact that we cannot touch. Because of its inaccessibility the original artifact might preserve at least a trace (or a shadow) of its “aura,” to use W. Benjamin’s term. Yet, my question is whether in the digital mode of reproduction, also 3D copies are charged with an emotional and cognitive investment that creates a sort of substitutive or surrogate ‘aura’ around them (as Daniel rightly points out in his post “Most of the value [of 3D printing] is explained in psychological terms and the emotional impact of physical objects. It comes up over and over again”).

Are we entering the realm of hyperrealist knowledge (the triumph of the “absolute fake,” according to Eco, or “total simulation,” according to French theorist Jean Baudrillard)? To Eco this is the ‘quintessence’ and triumph of ‘consumer ideology,’ but perhaps there is indeed value to be found in the process of total reproduction. Daniel invites us to look at different scenarios in which “making fakes” might have some value as a cognitive process. 3D modeling seems to provide the best value for scaling and mash ups, for example. A sort of engineering mentality (with an aesthetic flavor) seems to take roots within the humanities…

Teaching in 3D

(I accidentally posted on this week’s readings last week)

I have been thinking quite a bit about how all of the different tools we preview and discuss in this course are and are not pedagogically friendly. The “rhetoric of construction” as described in the Bonnett seems entirely promising, but I cannot help but think of it alongside an article I read for another course in which students were text encoding historical documents. The latter article claimed that students gained a deeper appreciation and closer read of the text through this process. I do not doubt this I so; yet I thought it dramatically undersold the level of tedium involved in such a task. I don’t know enough about the construction of 3d environments to make such a critique, but I think the general question applies nonetheless. So long as much of the technological projects we pursue are fairly work and time intensive, how well do they fit into a course like history or English where there is much to do and not much time to do it?

I wonder about this primarily for my own practical purposes. I would like to have my own future students go through this type of learning by putting together in a semi literal manner the pieces of what they study, but I worry about the investment to payoff ratio of time spent and even about it perhaps being exploitative at some extremes.

To avoid these problems, are we relegated to boring but quick and easy for the time being? Can we structure more undergraduate courses to be, frankly, like this one, where there is a lab component alongside a more analytical approach? I also wonder what a constructionist approach might mean for breadth of subject matter. It would, seem that a course based in construction as a means of engagement would need to be decidedly more narrow in its focus. I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing, but the trade off seems worth questioning.

Re- think, Re- make


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3D print technology based on the virtual reality technology, uses the variety of software to create models and modify scans. As Neely says, the models of museum objects can take on a creative life of their own through further derivation, by becoming parts of new collections of things or by being connected through programming and sensors. The 3D printer, actually from my perspective, provides a new equal access to mass public. The modern museums were built based on the concept to serve the modern society. Opposed to the traditional way of visiting museum——museum-oriented——that visitors followed the exhibition without self dominance, the 3D printer create a more equal way or even the visitor-oriented way of visiting museum. The visitors no longer need to follow the interpretation of museum. Rather, they “interpreted the work in their personal narrative.(Neely)

The Jonathan Monaghan’s creation, combing two art works(Leda and the Swan, Marsyas) is good example of personalizing visitor’s experience by using 3D printer. Since 3D printer technology could create models made by plastic materials, visitors have a chance to concrete their personal feeling and experience. The great thing is that, those personal productions, if exhibited in museum with original one, (some of museum have already did), would become a new experience. Just like what we experienced in cave with the project Pipe. By watching other’s recreation, we might get consensus or inspiration from other’s production. 

3-D Modeling and Printing

Modeling and printing are part of an intertwined system, a cycle. This is described by Robin Sloan as the flip flop:

“the flip-flop (n.) the process of pushing a work of art or craft from the physical world to the digital world and back again—maybe more than once” (Sloan, 2012).

There is the original physical items which is then modeled and converted to data. At that point the data can be manipulated and reworked before finally being printed out again as a new object made of a new material.


However it seems disadvantageous to think of “Making” as a cycle or process. By thinking along the lines of this cycle all of the value gets placed on the final project. Either for or against 3-D printing the value of the object printed seems hard qualify. Lee  Rosenbaum finds them “counter productive” but it is not so clear what type of thing would be more productive. Liz Neely’s says the printed objects provide a “deeper engagement through the quality of the interaction” but I am not sure why holding a piece of plastic is more valuable than looking at a TV screen. Maybe it is, but I find it interesting that its so hard to quantify the value of the 3-D printed objects. 

Most of the value is explained in psychological terms and the emotional impact of physical objects.  It comes up over and over again. We are asked the “feel” the museum, or create an object that we can take home with us to “remember” the museum experience. In the New York Times piece about Martin Galese also has a hard time finding it significance in describing Galese’s work. “While Mr. Galese has only produced a handful of these as 3-D designs, he is still looking in the patent office archives for simple, charming objects with some kind of link to the past.”

I find it interesting that it is hard to find a quantifiable value in the objects being created, from original objects, that have a high value (at least in the reading examples) whether monetarily, aesthetically or historically.

On the other hand the value of digitizing the objects and recording ultra-specific data about the object seems obvious, in that it allows for global access and increased analysis of the physical world.  Take a look at Liz Neely’s description of the 3-D process:

“Introducing the opportunity to create a full 360-degree scan, which can then produce a 3D print, allows a visitor to go deeper into the experience of the object. The time that it takes to construct the virtual model means closely scrutinizing; making mistakes and fixing them; and finally producing a finished model that can be modified, printed, shared, modified again, mashed up with other models, printed again, and so on—in an infinite process of sharing and changing, all of which can be traced and mapped.”

The printing of the object is almost mentioned in passing. The real value is in the data and the digitization process. This is what allows the patron to “construct, scrutinize, produce, share, trace and map.” Printing the object out is not contingent of any of these steps. It might be nice to printing something and hold it, but it is hard for me to see the real value in it.

Overall, this ties into the fact that each step of the maker process is not contingent on all of the other steps. You do not need an original object to print a 3-D object and you do not need to print a 3-D object once it has been converted to data. For the purposes of analyzing the importance of 3-D modeling and 3-D printing I think each aspect of the process needs to be analyzed and qualified individually. There seem to be a few scenarios worth delving into:

  1. Creating a new item on a computer and printing it out.
  2. Taking a real world object and converting it to data
  3. Printing a replica of a real world object, perhaps as different scale
  4. Printing out an object from data that once existed but no longer exists
  5. Mash Ups: Mixing data and an original object and creating something new and different than the original document

There is a lot of big talk for or against 3-D modeling and printing as evidenced in the readings for class, but by dividing up the concept into these different tasks it should become easier to find the advantages and disadvantages of each rather than looking at the entirety of the 3-D world and getting lost in the shuffle. To be continued…


Authorship and reproduction

Nicole’s post was very intriguing.  Her post made me think about the definition of “maker” and its relationship to authorship. If someone prints a 3D model of a famous artwork, such as a smaller version of “The Thinker” by Rodin, to use a famous example, would we still attribute authorship to Rodin? How would this differ from a replica found in a gift shop? If used in an an academic study, how do we evaluate the difference? What would the role of the printers or programmers be in the making of these 3D versions? This tension reminds me of debates concerning authorship in the Renaissance, specifically regarding prints. Prints of famous artworks were often printed and circulated widely. Who was the author of the print? The woodcutter/engraver, the printer, the original artist? What is the difference between an original, reproduction, replica, and copy?

An interesting example is this print by Marcantonio Raimondi which is based on a drawing by Michelangelo. The inscription reads: “Invented (invenit) by Michelangelo the Florentine/ Marcantonio made (fecit) it.” Here a distinction is made between the engraver and the original creator of the image. The role of “invention” is also important.


Another example is an image we have seen before:


What happens to the image when it is given another medium, a different context, and a different artist?


The  questions I am asking are: what happens to the image or object when printed in 3D? How does it change and how does our experience of it change? How can we understand authorship in this context?

Making anew


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3-D printing certainly offers a vast amount of possibilities for teaching, learning, researching and (needless to say) for artistic practices. The usage of 3-D printers by individuals or groups operating in different fields might be obviously characterized by different scopes, but the large range of these scopes is the precious outcome. In Neely’s reading it is said that “Museums are a natural fit for these types of informal learning activities.” Karen Wilkinson, director of the Tinkering Studio at the Exploratorium, spoke on the panel “What’s the Point of a Museum Makerspace?” at the MCN conference in November, 2012. She argued, “The difference between ‘make-and-take’ and ‘makerspace’ is the variety in the end product, and the ownership over the full process that the maker feels” (Wilkinson, 2012).”

That made me think that 3-D printing is just another result of the consumeristic society that allows ownership over objects that we can finally make ourselves instead of buying, reinforcing the consumer’s compulsive desire of possession, which leads to overfilled basements of endless objects. Despite this aspect, I don’t think we can consider 3-D printing overall as a harmful nor useless discovery. In fact, in addition to its beneficial effects (from student engagement through hands-on experience, to the ability of making replicas of fragile objects for research purposes), 3-D printing has the possibility to foster the conversation on authorship, hierarchy and cultural production which started with post-modernism and might involve an interesting twist: given the opportunity for everyone to make things, I can’t help but asking what would they make? Is 3-D printing going to reinforce the top-to-bottom model of production or reverse it? Maybe, there is no a univocal answer to this question. The “makerspace” is currently part of cultural institutions, in one way or another, and it is used by artists to continue to make objects in a creator-to-consumer fashion which is not much different from painting and sculpture, therefore it might be too early to speak of a cultural shift, but it is also true that “with a minimal amount of preparation and training, a fully engaged 3D printing experience is a likely outcome” (Neely, Langer). And the opportunities spurring from and within that experience are countless.

What I also found interesting is what Turkel and Elliott highlight in their article which is that historians,
for the most part, have tended to ignore this problem of learning tacit knowledge, and continue
 to concentrate on the representational sources with which they are most comfortable, even
at the cost of being excluded from a crucial understanding of their subject matter (p. 6). Shifting towards a more open attitude might turn the question “How does our own engagement with fabrication change our experience of what is methodologically possible?” (p. 9) into: How does our own engagement with visualization-making change our experience of what is algorithmically possible?

Process as value


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Definition of 'maker'

Use of the term ‘maker’ to describe the 3D printing community was one I was not aware of.  I think it is interesting to consider the word in this context alongside the definition above.  As Neely and Langer quoted from The Economist in their article Please Feel the Museum:  The Emergence of 3D Printing and Scanning, “The maker movement is both a response to and an outgrowth of digital culture…many people who spend all day manipulating bits on computer screens are rediscovering the pleasure of making physical objects”.  This return to materiality seems to be slightly odd to me.  Many of the examples in this weeks readings show makers creating miniature version of sculpture, or even integrating different sculptures in a mash-up, however these are missing their initial textural element.  They may be as accurate as possible in terms of form, but in terms of texture they are all the same, which was obviously not the case in the past.  

I agree that 3D printed objects are useful for all of the reasons outlined in 3D Scanning in the Museums:  A Q&A with the Smithsonian’s “Laser Cowboys” but I do think they miss something.  I think their value is in their process of creation, perhaps, and not the result.  Here is an example of an artist, Gilles Azzaro who has confronted sense to a certain extent – he has created and printed a visualization Barak Obama’s State of the Union address.   Pressing the ‘start button’ plays a recording of the speech and a laser tracks progress through the speech upon its 3D printed counterpart.  Again it is the process that is of interest here, and the fact that it took 350 hours to print.

3D print of Obama's State of the Union address

Something else I considered was how our interpretation of an object is formed partially from our knowledge of how it was created.  As a former archaeologist this is an incredibly important part of how we understand objects, and so I wonder how 3D printed object will be viewed by the archaeologists of the future?

Archiving the Present

I couldn’t help but notice that the visualizations presented by Diane Favro and John Bonnet seemed dated, looked old in a way that made it uncomfortable to trust the visualizations of their research even though they are less than a decade old. The aesthetics of data presentation might be able to adapt to the design principles employed by architects or graphic design artists. I think that focusing on the aesthetics of a 3-D visualization is important since the “timelessness” of an image may affect the reception to the data in future years and encourage open-source collaboration. 

John Bonnet mentioned the issues of archiving the data visualizations.  In searching for places and people concerned with the archiving the data and the hardware necessary for the access of this information I would the Kopal project which uses “data format migration” and “emulation environments” which translate older forms of data into current forms of data while also ensuring that the hardware in which the original metadata was conceived will work in future hardware systems. There are considerations such as finding a preferred format when the information is collected. Kopal uses a “Universal Object Format” that can store and convert “TIFF,” “PDF,” “XML” and ISO-images of CD-Roms. 

This will, I am almost positive, lead to discussions of image rights or ownership rights that might need to be focused on in collaborative projects. Scholarly journals are peer reviewed- and although I am a little reluctant to say this- I think that perhaps research data visualizations should be peer reviewed as well.