Could 3D printing be the future for craft? Makers with machines in Lab Craft at Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum

By Mark Sheerin | 04 October 2011
Cropped colour photo of a cut of wood engraved with a textile pattern
Gary Allson and Ismini Samanidou, Woven Wood (2010). Oak© Nick Moss
Exhibition: Lab Craft, Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum, until November 20 2011

A few grey-haired heads were shaking in disbelief as enthusiastic curator Max Fraser launched Lab Craft on a day of unseasonable heat in genteel Leamington Spa.

Although to be fair, the idea of 3D printing does take some getting used to, as does water jet cutting and powder fusing to name but a few of the nascent technologies which make this exhibition so jaw dropping.

But given the rise of conceptual craft, contemporary craft and even deviant craft in recent years, Lab Craft could fall into any one of those brackets. There are plenty of pieces which defy straightforward use value and in most cases circumvent the traditional skills needed to work in ceramics, fibres, wood, precious metal, etc.

One of the makers here is said to take pride in not laying hands on his work until it is finished. Geoffrey Mann’s silver-plated bronze candelabra, Shine, resembles a 3D rendering of a distressed photo. His work is based on a glitchy 3D scan of an existing candelabra (the machinery involved deals badly with reflective surfaces.)

And like Shine, much of the work in the show displays a digital aesthetic to go with a digital process. Water is an exquisite cascade of fine grey fabric, which switches from one weave to another at irregular, possibly algorithmic intervals.

Colour photo of a densely spiky silver candelabra
Shine, Geoffrey Mann, 2010, Bronze and Silver-Plate© Nick Moss
Another futuristic textile piece is Digital Shobori by Melanie Bowles. She simulates the effects of an elaborate Japanese tie-dye technique. Resulting printed fabrics glow with a holographic intensity.

Faced with the challenge data driven craft, one or two pieces might even throw in the towel. Michael Eden’s vase The Babel Vessel #1 takes the incomprehensible pattern of a QR code and plunges it through an elegant white nylon vase.

Recent graduate Zachary Eastwood-Bloom makes a table from comforting cuts of beechwood. But as the name of his piece warns, Information Ate My Table has been carved away by a CNC routing machine.

Both pieces are as witty as impractical. And in general Lab Craft is an optimistic and exciting show. Its attention to detail extends to laser engraved signage and ubiquitous QR codes, which will launch makers' websites on your smart phone.

But at no matter what rate this technology improves, craft may still humanise the objects around us. Along with his candelabra, Geoffrey Mann is showing a teapot, a wine glass and an oversize knife. These familiar objects are rippled with the sound waves from an argument lifted from the film American Beauty.

They remind us that even as we hurtle through this digital age, no thing and nobody's perfect. And in context of this slick, brave new show, that's a strange but real comfort.

  • Open 10.30am-4pm (1.30pm-8pm Thursday, 11am-4pm Sunday, closed Monday). Admission free.

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