Material Speculation + #Additivism
This past Thursday, amongst the scattered gallery openings across Toronto, Trinity Square Video unveiled Material Speculation, the latest project from Morehshin Allahyari. We had first learned of the project last year via Autodesk where Morehshin was an artist in residence at the Workshop in San Francisco. The 3D Printed project captured us with its poignant political and cultural statements reflecting the current political and social headlines that gripped the nation through 2015. After the disturbing videos that quickly became viral of ISIS destroying historic cultural iconography, Morehshin began a project that would reclaim the history of these objects.
Morehshin Allahyari was born and raised in Iran, moving to the US in 2007. Growing up in a country ripped apart by revolution has deeply impacted the subject matter of her work. Her previous project Dark Matter explored banned and taboo objects in her home country; Barbies, walking a dog on the street, VHS tapes, and anything else associated with Western culture.
Material Speculation uses 3D printing as a tool of resistance which Morehshin is calling #Additivism (additive + activism). The project would focus on recreating the statues from the Roman period city of Hatra and Assyrian artifacts from Nineveh. Starting the project was a daunting task as there was a significant lack of information regarding the destroyed artifacts. The statues had gained more attention in the videos of their destruction than they had previously garnered internationally while intact. Morehshin reached out to historians and other individuals in the community to help her gather as much information as possible, searching for data in English, Arabic, and Persian.
In addition to the lack of information, there were also very few images to be found. The original plan had been to create a 3D model using high quality images, but this required the impossible – finding 20-30 photographs from different perspectives. 3D modelling the objects from scratch was the only solution. With a skilled team of designers, Morehshin brought her research back to the physical realm. During the panel discussion at Trinity Square Video, she reflected on the unexpected emotional impact while cleaning the objects of material after they were printed. Morehshin said it was as though she were excavating them from the ground, unburying them.
The translucent statues hold a treasure in their core: a flash drive containing images, maps, pdf files, and videos on the artifacts and sites that were destroyed. Sealed inside the objects, the drives can be removed by prying apart a plug in the side of the 3D printed statue.
Morehshin Allahyari’s intent for the project is to draw attention to the world-wide crisis and to prevent the loss of history through destruction. She refers to her art project as an archival process. She will be sharing the files and 3D printing designs with the public as knowledge should be shared and owned by the people. Eventually, she would like to see the pieces returned to their “home” to be showcased once more where they once stood.
As Morehshin was developing Material Speculation, she was approached to do a monument-sized cultural piece in a city centre. She stuck to her political and moral ethics and turned down the offer. Her belief is that there is a fine line between honoring a culture and appropriating it. Paying homage to cultural iconography is one thing, but with corporate sensibilities the risk of it devolving into an amusement park-like relic is higher than one would like.
This brings us to the growing issue around digital colonialism as corporate projects adopt 3D scanning for financial gain and recognition. We could write an entire article dedicated to ethics and 3D printing, but we will save that for another date. There are many issues being raised surrounding big companies scanning and creating 3D files of our cultural properties. Where will the files go? Will we, the public, have unhindered access to them? Currently, the Smithsonian has launched X 3D with the intent of sharing the entire Smithsonian collection (99% of which is not in museums) digitally with the world at large. The Digital Archaeological Record (tDAR) is another digital archive library that deals specifically with archaeological records. Taking a stance for our rights to information is something that Morehshin is outspoken about – something we ALL should be outspoken about.
Morehshin Allahyari’s Material Speculation exhibit is prolific in the range of topics that it covers: petropolitical and poetic relationships between 3D printing, plastic, oil, terrorism, and technocapitalism. The exhibit is powerful in its statement and emotional in its subject matter. Touching on so many of the biggest moments in our history for 2015, Material Speculation resonates with the tremor of our fears, our optimism, our resistance, and our determination.
The Material Speculation exhibit will be open until March 19 at Trinity Square Video. Find out more HERE