Q: What do you want people to take away from your work? You say the works “offer visual art answers to technological singularity blindsightedness” – please can you expand?
A: My work is foremost a form of Future Studies. I’m correcting for fallacious depictions of the far future. Utopian or dystopic alike, space operas sporting singleton meat-sack humanoids wrapped in naval or world-mythic metaphors are the worst most myopic result of lazy technological extrapolation there is. Worse still, there are visual artists to this day gaming futurology or outright faking it by repeatedly rehashing 70′s new age-ized post-apocalyptic pseudo-sci-fantasy scenarios. It’s from contemporary technoprogressive, technoanarchist, transhumanist, H+, hard sci-fi and singularitarian ideas that I filter-out fodder for more forward-looking worthwhile visual responses.
Sometimes, the future is already here but it’s just too evenly distributed. Or, one lacks the epistemological firmware to even know what future is which. Materiality may become all about atomic administrator access-privileges and whether or not you can root your reality. ‘Now’ is ever-changing anyway, an exponentially moving target of a black hole with manifold meanwhiles all the way across. Anthropocentric narrative coherence won’t much help us survive the slippery slopes of singularity-spike-like futures over-patchworked into ever more radicalized presentisms.
How can the future’s futures be foreseen / forecast? Can we really depict the runaway imaginings of accelerated artificial intelligences? What would it look like if and after our overclocked-offspring (quicker-thinking posthuman descendants) decide to disassemble everything we know for spare parts? It’s to struggle with these sorts of questions and to run in that reality race that my work starts.
Q: Is your work deliberately trying to be opaque, and if so, what are the benefits of hyper-complexity (both conceptual and aesthetic)?
A: Many have been too hypnotized by technocratic solutionism to see that not all clarity is benevolently about accuracy and not all lack thereof should be immediately suspect. Getting obsessive-compulsive about the future can be counterproductive inasmuch as it often precludes a greater gamut of adaptability. Ambiguity, opacity, allusion, metaphor and semantic slippage can all serve as really important tools when making artwork, or realities for that matter. From the butterfly flap you choose, emerges the superstorm you deserve.
Q: How did the idea for this technique come about? Do you have any educational experience in coding, or are you self-taught?
A: I’m trained as a painter. However, I’ve always considered my praxis to be research-based, studying art in New Genres, Interdisciplinary and Information Arts programs and at research institutions predominately to remain proximate to the sciences. No formal CS education, but been programming practically as long as I can remember learning how to write. Anywhen, Future Studies → MNTs → molecular modeling. Doing science proper I am not though. I’m repurposing the representational rubrics of molecular visualization just enough to relay to viewers a sense of how hacking matter happens.
Q: Can you expand on what you mean by: “grow generative molecular designs and algorithmically automate alternative representations of nano-scaled structures” – the process as well as the concept? What software do you use? Can you describe the process by which you go from code, to an initial design, to the 3D printed artifact?
A: In NanoEngineer-1, I sculpt new nanoscaled structures, atom by amino. From research repositories, I appropriate .pdb (Protein Data Bank) files, nanomolecular machine component models, junk DNA sculptural origami and novel inorganic material models such as sheets of graphene, etc. With the molecular visualization system PyMOL, I overprocess or ornamentally-challenge models by writing and running Python scripts to algorithmically-automate alternative formal derivations, fractalize aminos off forms to perform generative crystallography, code for crazy carbon chaining, supersaturate all-of-the-above color palette assignments, deforming meshes and glitch render modes / ray tracings. All also callable command line by line, I script to induce and amass harvests of molecular mutations. I curate thereafter from the code-yielded crops, picking the ripest exemplary nano- nuance and novelty, so to speak. I use Gimp to compose resultant renders into 2D archival pigment prints called Qubit-Built Quilts. Qubit-Built Quilts are painterly plans for playborground ball pits of pure operationality all about atomic admin access-privs picturesque.
To process files for 3D printability, I continue manipulating my modded molecular models with MeshLab and manually carve them up into batches in Blender. I mean to make microsculptures in sheets that’ll incite the greatest gamut of ‘almos and a little extraa’ [sic] style artifactural anomalies. I predict / play with epic-print-fails, throttle or accordingly allow irregular parts likely to create collisions that all but muck up my printers. I’ve conscientiously crafted an arsenal of custom print settings in order to print more like painting. The goal is to glean abnormalities that aesthetically accentuate messy molecular modeling / 3D printing interstices, revealing how each translates one another with tensions that thereby ‘overheat’ the medium of rapid prototyping.
I draw on most of my printer filament with indelible markers as well as melt together with a custom fabricated heat-block lengths of different solidly hued strands. Combinations thereof account for the array of colorization operations and styles. I use traditional pigment dispersions and acrylic binders to affix multitudes of models to each other and onto substrates, and do so in an emergent manner, part by piecemeal. In fact, due to the dynamical nature of my practice overall, I can’t ever precisely predict any finished piece. On the whole, it’s when I almost can’t look away from a piece that I declare my work done.
Species-Tool-Beings could be considered sculptural reliefs, somewhere between collage and assemblage since some models are small-scale-sculptural while others are printed paper-thin yet impasto-painterly. Painting happens throughout to reconcile the parts seamlessly. Indeed, I take care to paint much like my 3D prints. Ideally, it should always be somewhat challenging to determine where the parts end and the paint begins. I’ve always thought paint ought to behave like scar tissue; heuristic evidence of paying dues, earning injuries and also healing. So for me, this is as much about handicrafts as it is the hyperextended hand of the artist.
Q: How long does it take to make one of your pieces?
A: The time it takes me to complete any given piece is difficult to quantify because I frequently work on a bunch at a time and there are also lots of overlapping phases of production involved: coding, rendering / processing files, 3D printing and painting / composing. All the same, I’d guesstimate that my larger pieces probably take up to a month and smaller works about a week.
Q: How did you build your own 3D printer – how long did this take?
A: I’ve built a bunch of them. Currently, I maintain four in my studio. A RepRap is a low cost open source rapid prototyping system that is capable of producing many of its own parts. I always assemble all my RepRaps from scratch. There’s definitely a discernible difference to pursuing an Arduino-based RepRap DIY approach to 3D printing rather than building some ‘some-assembly-required’ kind of kit. Sourcing or printing all your own parts separately and having to hand-hobble it all into working order each time produces printers with personality. If you can hack them well enough, these machines prove to exhibit expressionistic potential. I can hear my gear and let it talk too. I say my printer-family-farm of mind-child-playborers and I share together in new collablobjecthoods.
Some rapid prototyping pundits promise content-to-print solutions, on-demand means of increasingly customizable production and refer to it as an “abundance” technology. My interest of late is to visually relate the operative ideologies, promises, and hype of 3D printing to the R&D and speculations surrounding theoretical molecular manufacturing. I’m myself relatively over the folk psychological novelty of 3D printing for its own sake. Through this medium, I’m trying to increase awareness of imminent object-shock. In that way, I think it’s important to problematize prototyping at this point to expose that which isn’t exhausted or collapsed into fully exploitable usability in the functionalist sense. I aim my machines at actuating anythingyness artifacts for thing-in-itselfhoods.
Q: When does a printed object become real? When it’s in the source code? In your head? in the printer, being made? When someone looks at it?
A: I’ve been reading a lot of Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO) and Speculative Realism writings, especially Graham Harman and Ian Bogost. Objects are being overmined as more about their semantic-brainstorm-cloud formations of computability above and beyond them. But clusters of qualities do not alone make for an object. Objects withdraw from epistemological exhaustion. Subunits or parts of objects provide qualities serving only as temporarily useful caricatures. Artifacts are kinds of qualities that objects do.
‘Ontographs’ and ‘carpentry’ are key concepts of OOO. Carpentry can be considered an act of making an object become philosophy. My approach to painting is to span solution spaces across problems. Some artists show answers, whereas I show the work. Ontographs are cartographies and geographies of ontologies. I consider my compositions to be ontographic compendia constructed as a consequence of carpentry serving to lay bare object-to-object operations. I make metaphors for maps exceeding their territories, converting digital bits back into atoms and carpentering cartographies manifest to meet the demands of outright accelerated adjustments to materiality.
Q: How do you think 3D printing will revolutionise things?
A: While it isn’t too much of a stretch to acknowledge growing as a sort of assembly, the other way around proves so far so less acceptable. Accelerating progress in Molecular Nanotechnology (MNT) may change that. MNTs continue to expand the toolkit with which we can eventually assemble things from the atom up and give rise to nearabout costless systems for controlling the structure of matter itself. Things heretofore thought to be built might instead appear to arise from the nanoscale and / or instantly congeal into complex configurations from utility fog (a collection of nanobots that can replicate physical structures). Molecular manufacturing may make for objecthoods the likes of which we’ve not known and maybe can’t know this side of some sort of technological singularity beyond which materiality itself appears wholly unpredictable without radical mental augmentations. I feel my work foreshadows this forthcoming age of programmable matter, for it’s one thing to algorithmically push pixels or plastic around, it’ll be quite another thing altogether when it’s atoms.
Real-time instantiation of at-will thought-forms becomes a freedom of expression issue real quick. Post-printability of anythingyness means we won’t just be saying stuff, we’ll be saying in stuff itself. I like to think this’ll be like thinking in objecthoods or talking more like manipulating materiality. It may come-to-pass that what you print is how you process what you are. Any limit is up to us inasmuch as we are ourselves always ‘us’ as also ‘us-plus’. The upper bound of printability will absolertainly conflict with that which we consider constitutes life.
I’ve coined the neologism ‘transubstrational’ in some measure to help handle this breadth of built-being. The phrase ‘substrate independent’ too often occurs in the context of artificial general intelligence research and other infomorphiliac post-meatbody uploady meta-mental musings. My term ‘transubstrational’ reaffirms there is no mind sans substrate. Transubstrationality is inclusive of sundry subtler, slower states of transitional or transgressive living less about leveling-up than leveling-across any and many orders of scale and substrates.