Inside Out

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In Solaris, Stanislav Lem imagines a planet that is both alive and sentient, which can materialise simulacra of thoughts drawn from human minds into living objects and landscapes. As in so much Science Fiction, an eerie prescience points towards a new definition of materiality, which is emerging in our world where technologies are blurring the boundaries between our notions of ‘virtual’ and ‘real’. These technologies are not confined to those underpinning the Inside Out exhibition[1] (jointly curated with Claire Smith), but are now extending into haptic interfaces, touchable holograms and responsive 3D environments.

Furthermore, what we perceive to be ‘materiality, is seemingly determined by the infantile hardwiring of our brains, which in turn determines our consequent ability to interpret our sensory inputs. The blind from birth, when given sight, cannot make real sense of what they see- since context is as crucial as content

This redefinition of the ‘real” can only lead us to conclude that materiality is not simply about physical objects, but about the processes and relations which give rise to materiality. In this sense, the world is full of potentials, which can at any time result in instantiation. “The artist is the origin of the work. The work is the origin of the artists. Neither is without the other” [20] Materiality is not only about tangibility-for example software, while being immaterial in the strictest sense, impacts hugely on our world through its affordances and organising properties, it depends on material artefacts and has material effects; so perhaps the relationship between virtual and real is more nuanced than we readily allow.

The exhibition allowed the exchange of virtual 3D Data between artists in Australia and the UK, which was realised using rapid prototyping (RP) technologies. It forced the artists to inhabit the process and the medium entirely, to ignore past notions of materiality, truth to materials etc and to consider the affordances of RP: the ability to fully describe and realise the intricate delicacy of internal as well as external surfaces, hence the title and theme of the exhibition. It is not, I think entirely coincidental that some of the forms in the show exhibited organic and micro-organic affinities with diatoms; pollen grains; and complex crystals, for these are also forms that grow, as it were, algorithmically or parametrically.

This exhibition attempted to explore a new boundary between the digital artefact and its instantiation. The project’s removal of the normal intuitive and iterative processes of creative production, and (in such a long distance exchange) the necessary substitution of a more industrial model, was a singularly extreme approach. Particularly where the CAD modelling embodied the totality of the artists’ spatial and creative knowledge, but was only revealed and tested in a single prototype. Nevertheless, it was a process one which we hope stimulated, rather than restricted the practitioners. With Rapid Prototyping for sculptures, there are other points grading between an extreme craft and extreme industrial strategy, but while others have already explored these gradations: we deliberately chose to expose a mix of traditional artists and crafts people to this uncompromising experiment, in order to preserve that almost magical sense of materialisation offered by the technology.

The intrinsic limitations and costs of practical production led us to chose the miniature as a format, but as curators I think we unconsciously had in mind antecedent forms of display such as the Cabinet of Curiosities and the exquisite drawers of objects in the Pitt River’s Museum, Oxford and The Natural History Museum in London. This sense of the fruits of exotic travel, the trawling of riches from around the globe, for all its colonial taint, has immense appeal and forms a valid iconography for these objects dredged from the depths of an emergent technology.

[1] Inside Out was jointly curated with Claire Smith in Melbourne 2010-11 and involved universities and artist groups in both Australia and UK.