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Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Digital Art + the Auction House

I'm currently working on some editorial which explores the place and value of 3D printed contemporary sculpture within the art market context. As part of the essay, I interviewed Megan Newcome, Digital Strategy Director at Phillips Auction House in NYC - and found her responses so insightful that it'd be a shame not to post them here on my blog.

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1. To what extend is it important for auction houses to respond quickly to technology trends?

It's critically important for auction houses to embrace technology and understand the impact of what is, essentially, the digital transformation of the art world. Compared to other industries, like music and publishing, the art world was very slow to respond to technology trends because its economic model, premised on scarcity and objecthood, wasn’t drastically impacted by the Internet. But I think the biggest elephant in the room is digital art. It challenges the fundamental economic principles and rules of the art market. Traditional, commercial art world modes of exchange are now being challenged by the global networks - decentralized distribution, new forms of ownership, even new currencies.

2. Why do you think it was important for Phillips to host both issues of Paddles ON!?

I think it was important for Phillips to host Paddles ON! because we understood that the auction would potentially be a groundbreaking moment for digital art - and that it would require a different approach than our other auctions. It was very collaborative - we partnered with Tumblr, Paddle8, Rhizome, OK Focus, and ArtsTech Meetup for the New York auction - and Dazed, Opening Times and Arcadia Missa in London. It literally took a village! We understood that the success of the auctions would depend a lot on engaging and galvanizing the digital art community.

I like to describe it this way: Tumblr brought the digital art community, Phillips brought the ‘art world’ muscle, and Lindsay Howard brought the vision. It was important for us to have Lindsay on board who curated both of the auctions. She understood how to put together a collection of works that had both commercial appeal and were important because they were expressions of different digital practices - animated GIFs, websites, software, 3D prints, digital paintings, videos, and installations.

It was also important for us to have an educational component - we produced a series of videos with artists discussing their practices; we staged a reading room in our London gallery where visitors could access a collection of printed and digital texts; and we hosted a series of panel discussions in New York and London focusing on what it means to create, sell and collect digital art in the 21st century.

We also worked directly with artists and galleries who provided a lot of guidance in terms of pricing, handling and exhibiting the works. In both auctions, the proceeds went back to the artists. In New York, artists recieved 80% of the hammer price and the remaining 20% was donated to Rhizome. In London, artists recieved 100% of the hammer price and a portion of Phillips’s buyer’s premium was donated to Opening Times.

3. Does the fact that a 3D printed sculpture can be re-printed make it a less important collections piece?

I think your question is at the heart of the larger discussion around how the ‘digital object’ is made, valued and collected. This paradox of the ‘digital object’ is very challenging to galleries, auction houses, collectors who have a traditonal view of ownership - how is it possible to sell something that is either impossible to ‘own’ or can be copied? But the fundamentals of ownership are changing. Global networks, open source, crowdfunding, the economy of attention, are creating alternative forms of value that rival one-to-one ownership. New technologies, platforms, and artists themselves are exploring creative ways to monetize digital art.

4. How do audiences respond differently to digital design / does digital work attract a different audience?

Historically, digital art was very niche - you had to be a computer geek or hacker to ‘get it’. Now, the world is increasingly engaged with technology. Audiences are more likely to share screen-based art and cultural experiences than IRL experiences. And this is an important benefit that digital art has over traditional art - it connects artists directly to an audience. It puts more power in the hands of artists and less power for institutions and galleries. When people talk about ‘democratizing the art world’, I think that is what what it means.

5. What are your thoughts towards the value of 3D printed pieces of contemporary sculpture?

One of my favorite recent quotes is Carter Cleveland (founder of Artsy) who says, “The art of tomorrow is the technology of today.”

Artists are using the tools that are ‘contemporary’ to them - 3D printers are a perfect example. I think 3D printed sculpture, in many ways, is the most elegant manifestion of the ‘digital object’ - something a traditonal collector could understand both as a physical object and a digital object. We sold a 3D sculpture by Sophie Kahn in our London Paddles ON! auction - and it, by far, recieved the most inquiries from collectors visiting the gallery.  

Monday, 17 August 2015

A look into Biomimicry

My next piece for Disruptive Magazine is now live. I explored Biomimicry in the context of 3D printing - it was certainly one of the most enjoyable articles to research that I've been working on recently. Featured is Nervous System, Lee Cronin and Janine Benyus. Their work is all really different, but through reading the piece you'll see how beautifully their practice combines via Biomimicry as a process for 3D printing.

I'm working a number of articles at the moment for a varied colection of print and online publications. Let me know if you're interested in commissioning me for something else as well!

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Texas Tripping

I'm currently in Austin Texas, having been invited to attend and cover an announcement from Stratasys Direct Manufacturing - a service bureau for 3D printing in North America.

Looking around the factory facility was really cool, and I also met and interview some really interesting (and lovely) people. I even got to hold the first ever 3D printed (and fired) metal gun, which was kinda cool.

Catch up with the written piece from the event on Disruptive.

Liberator chic

Despite the number of years since the notorious 3D printed gun altered the reputation of additive manufacturing, its disruption resounds. Back in 2013, the project made headlines through the release of a 3D printed prototype ‘Liberator’ gun (and open source file) – and today, its influence continues to be translated across discipline and industry. ‘Liberator Rounds’ is a sculptural collection and presentation of the open source STL from Cody Wilson, and stands as a ceiling mounted chandelier of 3D printed guns by artist Addie Wagenknecht.

With a history of embracing the challenges that contemporary, open source culture offers, Wagenknect’s understanding of use and objecthood in ‘Liberator Rounds’ only develops this discourse further. The implications of an open-access technology (like additive manufacturing) already deliver endless industry benefits, but the potential for creative innovation and cultural expression are evident in Wagenknect’s art – almost as an extension of the internet’s power to do the same.
The series is about ubiquitous objects in our environment and a shift in contemporary context, the playful and subversive quality of surveillance and data culture in our everyday environments,” says Wagenknecht. “The work plays with the underlying notion of how culture is produced and distributed—how they have been affected by our disenchantment and simultaneous obsession [with] digital culture.” (via the Creators Project)
Although numerous downloads and 3D prints of The Liberator have been made across the world, ‘Liberator Rounds’ is one of the most interesting visual statements of that now pivotal moment in the public history of additive manufacturing. We look forward to seeing what comes next.

Article written for Disruptive

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Chanel A/W 2015-16: Couture

Super excited to have learnt a little bit more about the 3D printed elements which played such a key part in Chanel's most recent Couture offering a few days ago.

Aside from the amazing spectacle which was the Casino-themed event, I was actually quite shocked to see how the 3D printed SLS latice's integrated into the garments were so important to the materiality of the collection. When I saw the twitter hashtags and headlines, I assumed that the 3D printed parts of the show would be things like buttons or a hair accessory. However, I'm extremely impressed by the novel way in which the Chanel Coutouriers have used the tech to develop the Fashion House's traditional aesthetic.

Here's the Lagerfeld quote:

“The idea is to take the most iconic jacket of the 20th century and make a 21st century version, which technically was unimaginable in the period when it was born,” Lagerfeld told AFP after the show. “The vest is one piece, there is no sewing, it is moulded. “What keeps couture alive, is to move with the times. If it stays like sleeping beauty in the woods in an ivory tower, you can forget it. The women who buy couture today are not the bourgeoises of the past, they are young, modern women.”

It seems as though the Creative Director at French Couture House Maison Lesage, Hubert Barrere, has had a lot to do with the development of the 3D printing, which layers sequin fabric beneath the 3D printed nylon latice before being finished by a crystal stud.

A video posted by CHANEL (@chanelofficial) on

Take a look at the video below from Vidéo France Télévisions to see more (in French). In the meantime, I'm looking forard to see the fashion discourse in this area develop, as houses other than Iris Van Herpen integrate this tech into their work. And I'm also looking forward to learning which (assumingly) Paris-based 3D printing company suppled and supported Chanel with the prints! Tweet me if you know...

P.S. I wrote an online article following this blog post for Disruptive Magazine, which you should take a look at:

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Disruptive Magazine - print issue 2

For my second Disruptive Mag piece, I focused on the ever-devloping discipline of Digital Humanities, and how technology has always faciliated the creation of art through new explorations of concept.

It was a bit of a tricky one, but I'm really pleased with the final piece - especially as I'm fascinated by the area of research.

Let me know if you'd like more info - and in the meantime, I'm researching and pitching to more print magazines, papers and zines for specialised content relating to 3D printing (so get in touch).

Monday, 22 June 2015

How Tech Trends Take off

Crafting the Customer Experience through Technology

The NET-A-PORTER-GROUP X London Technology Week

Regardless of the idea, there’s a core aspect that runs the length of every technology, product and service available: customer experience. Initially hidden – and when it’s good, it’s left un-noticed – customer experience is an essential part of every company’s mission in offering a solution. It’s simple: if no one likes using your product, then no one will pay for it - no matter how great the apparent demand may be.

Despite my seemingly knowledgeable and experienced opening to this post, these ideas in fact only occurred to me a few days ago at a London Technology Week event. Admittedly, my initial draw to attend was a result of the event’s host and location within The Village at Westfield. And of course, The NET-A-PORTER Group’s London HQ was everything I had hoped for: sophisticated, monochromatic, functional and beautifully inspiring – and on top of all that, it smelt like Aesop Skincare Products everywhere.

The evening consisted of Prosecco, Walkers Sensation crisps, canapés and a very well chosen pre-networking panel discussion:

  • Sarah Watson, VP Social Commerce, NET-A-PORTER.COM
  • Jonathan Earle, Head of Strategy, Planning, Innovation and Customer Experience, O2 UK
  • Ophelia Brown, Index Ventures (replaced by someone I can’t remember the name of)

Chaired by Alex Wood, Editor-in-Chief of a new techy publication that I’d never heard of (called The Memo), it was clear that there had been plenty of preparation for the conversation to come (always appreciated). The eventbrite preface to the event read as thus:

“Technology has allowed forward-thinking companies to radically disrupt industries, from luxury fashion, to entertainment and communications. But technology's real power lies in its ability to create the perfect customer experience. Hear from three pioneering companies and a technology dealmaker, as they discuss how technology is being deployed to refine every customer touch-point.”

In reality, the discussion explored the different approaches to customer experience (using technology) via each company representative in attendance – and it was fascinating.

Across industry, it’s openly understood that technology has disrupted the paradigms and norms by which we all work. But what struck me about the evening’s panel was the level at which companies are guided by the technological habits of their users. As an example, Sarah Watson, VP Social Commerce at NET-A-PORTER, revealed that 40% of the company’s sales happen via mobile devices. That profitable jump from E-commerce (online shopping) to M-commerce (mobile shopping) has been rapid – and doubtlessly played a decisive part in Sarah’s role managing ‘The Net Set’. This relatively new retail platform form NET-A-PORTER illustrates the next move for the company: a move from M-commerce to ‘S-commerce’ (social commerce). The Net Set gives users the chance to follow the style of people they admire and aspire to – and there’s no doubt that instagram culture has almost single-handedly prompted this development of buyer’s habits. Since the majority of those who shop with NET-A-PORTER are apple technology (iPhone) users, it made sense for Sarah and her team to utilise and develop more ways for people to spend money with the company via this medium – and on a critically social level.

My interest in 3D printing within the fashion industry found a platform during the Q&A part of the evening, and in sync with the previous discussion, helped me to understand the challenges that this technology is still facing. Just like any other tech, 3D printing cannot be widely used until it is widely adopted. When I asked Sarah about how NET-A-PORTER predicts and prepares for new technology, her answer very much overlooked the potential of 3D printing – simply because until her customers are interested in it, then neither is she. I felt as though my question would be better suited to a CTO – but nevertheless, the attitude of the industry itself was very much evident in her reply. 

What this event really spurred me to consider is the extremely essential concern of customer experience when using technology (like 3D printing) to (one day) engage with actual physical products. The quality control needed for the future of 3D printed garments is beyond anything that I can currently imagine - especially since home 3D printing at present is fraught with print failures even for the most simple of objects. Apart from a small mention of 3D scanning to homogenize data for cross-brand sizing solutions, my field of industry was not mentioned any further. Whilst 3D printing everyday clothing feels further away than ever, I’m convinced that in a few years, some serious progress in materials will be made, which might just excite people enough for large (retail) industry players to take notice.