A New Creative Instrument - Entering the Age of 3D Printing

Jul 4, 2015 7:46AM

3D Printing & Art 

May 15th - July 6th 2014

Hyewon Kwon, Byoungho Kim, Kim Suk, Kim Seung Young, Younghui Kim, Woong-Hyun KIM, Kim Changkyum, Sean ROH, Dan Mikesell, Ryu G, Ryu Ho-yeol, Kijin Park, Jin Hyun Park, Bernd Halbherr, Ogyungsub, Oiliver Giem, Joachim Weinhold, Lee Jon Ho, Lee Juri, Jung Myoung Guk, JO Yung hee 

Savina Museum of Contemporary Art  

Supported by Arts Council Korea 

                      Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning

                      Seoul Metropolitan Government

                      DAELIM chemical

                      3D Printing Research Organization

                      Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Korea

                      Arts Management Service

Sponsored by nanoinside, objectbuild, OPENCREATORS

                      Cooperation Gwacheon National Science


Written by Kang Jae-hyun (chief curator, Savina Museum) 

Korean-English Translation is supported by Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and Korea Arts Management Service.

Translated by Ewha Research Institute for Translation Studies

The Savina Museum of Contemporary Art is holding the first exhibition in Korea to utilize 3D printing technology. While 2D printers use ink on paper to print letters displayed on a computer screen using a word processing program, 3D printers can produce a three-dimensional object by sending image files produced with a 3D design program to a 3D printer. One of the most prominent global issues in recent times, 3D printing is referred to as a “dream device,” as it is capable of creating objects of any complicated form anytime and anywhere without the need for assembly, as long as they are designed from a 3D design program. First developed in 1984 by the American company 3D Systems, 3D printers began to be commercialized in the mid-2000s—two decades after the expiration of the company’s patent—at a time when Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) was becoming widely available to the public as an additive manufacturing technology that works by melting and laying down plastic material in layers. Also, key patents on Selective Laser Sintering expired in April 2015, which allows the use of a wider range of materials, including powder-type metal and ceramics. In 2013, the World Future Society predicted in its 20 Future Forecasts for 2013-2025 that 3D printing would revolutionize manufacturing. American futurist Alvin Toffler observed in his 2006 book Revolutionary Wealth, “Users of this fabrication technology will someday make ‘almost any product you can imagine (and maybe some you can’t imagine)!’” 3D printing is deemed to be an innovative technology that could shift the paradigm of manufacturing-based industries by dramatically reducing the time and cost spent on producing a prototype. At present, 3D printing technology is used to prototype a wide variety of objects spanning from hamburgers to buildings, while expanding its application into medical appliances, aircrafts, automobiles, and components for weapons, thereby changing the way of life and structure of cognition among modern-day mankind.


In 2009, the “100 Most Creative People” list by the American business magazine Fast Company selected Neri Oxman, a designer and architect who currently teaches as an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab. Oxman uses the 3D printer to create designs based on inspirations from nature and living organisms. The mysterious forms of her designs cannot be fully expressed through existing production methods, instead relying on 3D printing as the sole means of expressing perfect forms. Indeed, 3D printing technology does not fail to stimulate the imagination and inspire artists through a paradigm shift.


Considered to be the modern-day equivalent of the Industrial Revolution, 3D printing aroused curiosity from Savina Museum, which has continually sought a variety of collaborative projects with other fields and organized exhibitions with consistent interest in the use of cutting-edge technology among artists. For a very long time, a countless number of artists have ceaselessly endeavored to achieve the “dream of representation.” The Renaissance saw the introduction of perspective as a means to add three-dimensional depth to the canvas, while anatomy was employed to develop precision in the act of depiction. In the 19th century, artists went to extra lengths to move beyond the perfect representation of an object, and instead scientifically analyzed the light of the moment and endeavored to create a more real method of expression by exploring the essence of form and speed. The astonishing development of scientific technology led to the expansion of artistic genres into digital art, allowing the artist to bring virtual reality to the computer screen through the Internet or computer programs, instead of the canvas. Currently, 3D printing technology not only offers a new possibility for digital art by producing a three-dimensional object out of a virtual form on the screen, but also suggests a more complex concept of the merging of virtuality and reality. Also, considering that 3D scanners are used to restore destroyed or lost parts of relics or remains, and to reproduce notable paintings by copying the thickness of paints and brushstrokes, it is certain that such an innovative technology is a tempting and valuable tool for artists to realize their creativity.


The Savina Museum of Contemporary Art’s 3D Printing & Art features a total of 21 artists from a variety of art genres, including media, installation, sculpture, painting, and design. The core concept of this show lies in the connection and reflection of the artists’ perspectives on objects through 3D printing technology, rather than focusing on the realization of complicated forms. With assistance from a host of related companies, Savina Museum held a series of workshops and education programs for participating artists and 3D printing experts, providing an environment where the artists were able to share 3D printers with FDM technology. Also, 3D scanners made it possible to obtain precise data and replicate objects and relics. In the process, the participants experimented with 3D printers with a great deal of curiosity and concentration, as if they were children who were given the latest toy, and engrossed themselves in their creative work while sharing information. Undergoing a perpetual process of trial and error, the artists were compelled to find a compromise between their high expectations over 3D printing and the limitations of FDM technology, which is not designed for accurate printing and is vulnerable to environmental constraints. Nonetheless, there is no denying that 3D printing boosted the participants’ creative will and broadened their imagination.


It is highly regrettable that this exhibition was organized at a time when the development and distribution of 3D printers in Korea has yet to begin in earnest, compared with the U.S., Japan, and European countries, and that there was not enough time for the participating artists to fully test the technology. However, this show was designed to examine the potential effects of 3D printing on artistic creators and its uses as a working tool. Therefore, its significance lies in offering the opportunity to identify the potential changes that may be brought about by the introduction of 3D printers, as well as its distinction as the first exhibition of its kind in Korea, planned based on a rough yet characteristic concept and staged employing cutting-edge technology.


The artists present their own distinctive, extended perspectives in a number of different ways by overcoming the technical limitations and conditions of 3D printing in accordance with their given circumstances. Some of the participants experiment with forms that are challenging to embody; others perform experimental work for perfect duplication or restoration with accurate data value. Works inspired by form and movement of devices, unfamiliar sounds, and a rich range of colors from different materials (filaments) lead us to experience a new world of synesthesia. Furthermore, some of the video works, drawings, and installation art on display aim to share voices of concern on issues stemming from 3D printing technology.


In the future, 3D printers are expected to be used as a tool for a whole range of art forms beyond digital art, becoming an essential for artists emphasizing the practice of DIY, as well as creating a complete work of art. The development of various tools and materials to allow the easy use of 3D design is undoubtedly good news for artists. In coming years, artists’ designs are likely to be distributed online, creating a new business model in the art market. On the other hand, consumers will be able to download and print their favorite artist’s designs in their own room for collection in the same way as downloading music online. The time will come when museums will be able to organize a show by receiving 3D designs from an artist based overseas and printing them according to the artist’s preferences for the materials used and the specifications of the 3D printer. 


Machinery has continued to serve mankind constantly since the Industrial Revolution. The process of arranging this exhibition outlined the technical limitations of 3D printers, but also highlighted their endless possibilities. Meanwhile, although the technology will be able to spare artists the loss of material or spending time on complicated production processes, who previously had to chisel rocks or make a casting mold for the purpose of artistic representation, the question was raised as to whether convenience and accuracy of machines could also reflect the artist’s human touch and soul. Is it possible that 3D printing, believed to be able to shift the paradigm of the manufacturing industry, could also shift the creative paradigm among artists? What possibilities can the technology offer for artists? Just as photography established itself as an independent art genre allowing a variety of expressions instead of merely serving as an assistive tool for artists, can 3D printers present a new vision beyond an instrument of representation? Preparations for the show added to such curiosity all the more.


3D printing is set to firmly position itself as part of our daily life, as was the case with the Internet and smartphones. In an age when a scene from a science fiction film can become reality, 3D printing technology appears as a creator capable of making everything possible, while narrowing the boundaries between the virtual world and the real one. Meanwhile, state-of-the-art technology with high efficiency in terms of time and cost reduction is likely to liberate man from labor, but at the same time leave humans deprived of jobs. Experts point out the urgent need for developing measures against issues such as the violation of intellectual property and illegal weapons production. What kind of future will 3D printing present to us? Whether it leads to utopia or dystopia will be determined by mankind’s ethical attitude and willpower. We hope that this show will offer an opportunity to explore a wide range of changes and possibilities in contemporary art to be brought about by 3D printing, and to seriously examine the potential effects of this technology on our lives.