Speculative design: 3Dprinting and the anthropocene

Most of the posts of this blog address different strategies to exploit complexity freedom, the capability of 3DPrinting to fabricate complex features in products without increasing the cost of production. This complexity freedom gives entrepreneurs the ability to merge the design and manufacturing processes and create new avenues for experimentation. However, there are more ways to interpret complexity freedom beyond functional allocation of product architectures. The implementation of 3DPrinting also shrinks the time needed to bring an idea to life and the number of people that need to be involved. Artists Moreshin Allahyari and Daniel Rourke look critically at this complexity freedom as a democratized fabrication method. Their project Additivism (a name that is a portmanteau of additive and activism) looks at the potential effects of complexity freedom in a greater scale. Additivism highlights the capability of 3DPrinting to transgress the configuration of matter in an ecological level (things we perceive at a human scale) without the restrictions imposed by social structures, capital, and discourse. The Additivists, compare the appearance of the 3DPrinter to the appearance of the photocopier in the 1960’s and 70’s where civil rights movements used this newly available technology to replicate literature that otherwise was inaccessible to minorities and vulnerable groups.

The Additivists were inspired by the Anarchist Cookbook written by William Powell. Just like the original cookbook, the Additivist Cookbook gathers “recipies” that explore this new potential to disobey and transform. The current project was developed as a recipe of the cookbook during an Additivism workshop in Auckland New Zealand in 2016.

Additivism considers the 3DPritning process as a metaphor of the capability of humans to alter our own environments and bodies. They remind us that at the core of 3DPrinting processes there is usually plastic that has been extracted from oil to be shaped in whatever novel solution we think is suitable. Even though 3DPrinting is situated in an Antropocenic context, the Additivists suggest that the complexity freedom available through the technology has the potential for the generation of new metaphors for our relationship with nature. Instead of consuming, the circularity of 3DPrinting can be analogous to composting the world, a metaphor that Donna Haraway calls the Chtulucene, and uses to invite us to come back from the deterministic ways of economic growth and progress. Through this environment composting, Additivism questions the boundaries of the artificial and the natural, and the accessibility that 3DPrinting creates for everyone to explore such boundaries.

The Tutlebag

3DPrinting can help composting the environment with and not for other species (Photo: WWF)

Composting in the Cthululcene epoch goes beyond preserving the idea of the natural. Donna Haraway recalls that during the Anthropocene, our myths embody our role as humans in the tools that heroes use to carve and shape. On the contrary, during the Cthulucene, composting should be embodied in objects that care and carry. Accordingly, composting is about companionship and transformation of all that surrounds us. With these thoughts in mind the current project developed the idea of developing artificial organs that help animals cope with the ongoing transformations of the environment. Considering that research estimates that a third of the turtles that die stranded in the coasts of New Zealand die due to the ingestion of plastic (Godoy, 2016), the final concept proposed a “turtlebag”, a 3DPrinted organ that digests plastic bags for the turtle.

The turtlebag is conceptualized as a suction mechanism that eats plastic bags before the turtle can eat them. The mechanism is composed by a suction head, a stomach, and a pair of flippers. It lays over the turtle shell just as a parasite animal would do. The stomach works like a vacuum bag that is triggered once the turtle stretches its neck to grab a plastic bag. In order to store energy, the stomach has a pair of rib-like structures that are bent down to release water in it when the turtle flaps its way through the water. Once the turtle stretches its neck, the in-valve stretches, and the ribs expand to their original position taking in the plastic bag that lies in front of the turtle. The plastic bag uses a small slot for suction that can swallow compressible bodies, such as plastic bags. On the contrary, a jellyfish would get stuck in the slot allowing the turtle to eat it slowly. Once the turtle starts swimming, the bag compresses again.

Mechanisms under the shell of the turtlebag
Suction mechanism (without shell)

The turtlebag is proposed to use multi-material 3DPrinting as the one already used in the fabrication of sports gear or training shoes. Through multi-material 3DPrinting flexible and solid materials can be used to create different material behaviours such as the ones needed by the shell, ribs, and valves. Functional complexity freedom would allow the fabrication of intricate mechanisms such as the valves and other mechanisms such as textures that could keep the plastic bags inside the stomach until recollection by human partners. Additionally, the capabilities of 3DPrinting can enable the fabrication of the mechanism in site by conservation programs and activists. The turtlebag was part of a selection of works from the Additivist Cookbook that was presented into subsequent exhibitions in the Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens, Greece and the MU art space in Eindhoven, Holland during 2017-2018.

Version of the turtlebag presented at the MU Art Space, Eindhoven, Holland