Late in February 2015 one news hit the ongoing stream of reports about ISIS attacks (or whatever we should call it). The fighters destroyed ancient artifacts at Mosul Museum, the second largest museum in Iraq, after burning the libraries in the city: a viral video was released and every newscast showed it to a wide Occidental public.
I remember the reactions of sadness of friends and people interested in art: the main thesis was that these artifacts represented history of art and culture (although they didn’t mention which culture) and that they’ve should not be touched by contemporary events – such as ISIS attacks. One important question was: how we could reassemble those artifacts? Are they lost forever?
Morehshin Allahyari (http://www.morehshin.com/) is a new media artist, art activist, educator, and cultural curator born and raised in Iran that since some months is working on Material Speculation: ISIS, a project “that inspects Petropolitical and poetic relationships between 3D Printing, Plastic, Oil, Technocapitalism and Jihad”, as she describes it herself.
It’s a series of 3D modelings of selected artifacts destroyed by ISIS fighters in museums of Middle East that are 3D printed in order to be spread without constrains all over the world, as if they’re digital files: every printed object contains an USB key with materials about the last months of the original artifact, gathered wby the artist with the help of many archeologists, historians and museums’ staffs.
A project that, like other Allahyari’s works, extensively deals with the political, social, and cultural contradictions we face every day. Morehshin has been part of numerous national and international exhibitions, festivals, and workshops around the world. She has presented her work and creative research in various conferences and universities including TED conference, Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas Museum of Art, CAA conference, Open Engagement, Prospectives ’12 International Festival of Digital Art, and Currents New Media Festival, and elsewhere. Her work has been featured in Rhizome, Hyperallergic, Animal New York, Art F City, Creators Project, Dazed Digital, Huffington Post, NPR, VICE, Parkett Art Magazine, Art Actuel magazine, Neural Magazine, Global Voices Online, Al Jazeera, and BBC among others.
Filippo Lorenzin: Let’s start with your interest in 3D printing. Since you started working with it three years ago, so I would ask you what is changed since then in your practice and thinking.
Morehshin Allahyari: I remember the first time I came across a video that was showing an object being 3D printed was around four years ago and I was really amazed by the process; just watching a digital 3D model becoming an actual physical object layer by layer. 3D printer is a technology filled with hope and promise. So since the very beginning of learning about 3D printing, I became fascinated about critical and political ways that I could integrate it in my practice, both as a Utopian and Dystopian medium. The very first idea that I got into was 3D printing things/objects that were forbidden in Iran and the radical potential of that in practical and metaphoric ways. So I worked on a project for almost two years called Dark Matter which is a series of forbidden combined, sculptural objects 3D printed to form humorous juxtapositions.
In addition, for the last one year I have been collaborated in writing and producing The 3D Additivist Manifesto and a forthcoming 3D Additivist Cookbook with London based artist/writer Daniel Rourke. We have coined the term “Additivism” which encourages difficult questions and radical and provocative approaches to 3D printing. We have kept a blog that is an archive of some of the most progressive and weird technologies and ideas around 3D printing. It’s amazing to see how fast a technology like that has grown in the last 2-3 years (although it has been around for more than 30 years). From 3D printing body organs to guns. But in our Manifesto and our in progress Additivist Cookbook we have focused on what’s possible beyond our imagination… Beyond what we currently know and can understand. So this is where the science-fiction/futuristic approach to 3D printer has gradually become more and more fascinating to me. The future of 3D printing beyond our knowledge and ways we might be able to disrupt material, social, computational, and metaphysical realities through provocation, collaboration, and weird/science fictional thinking and making.
At the same time, in my very last and currently in progress project called Material Speculation: ISIS, I have focused on two very different approaches to 3D printing. One a very practical one in which I have 3D modeled and 3D printed the artifacts that were destroyed by ISIS at Mosul Museum and one a completely conceptual, poetic, and non-functional approach in which I have attempted to connect all these points around plastic, 3D printing, oil, Technocapitalism, and Jihad. This is where I exactly find thinking and working around a technology like 3D printing really important and exciting. When it’s about both functionality (how) but also criticality (why)… When it’s about both resistance but also inclusion.
Filippo Lorenzin: In your statement, you say that in your practice and thinking technology is “a poetic tool to document the personal and collective lives we live and our struggles as humans in the 21st century”. Could you elaborate the “poetic” part? Do you mean a sort of “post-techno fetish”?
Morehshin Allahyari: Yes. Post-techno-fetish… A more feminine, emotional, conceptual way of thinking about tools and technologies around us. I am a big advocate of asking why, how, when, and in what context do we and should we use the digital tools around us and how that might impact the dialogue or the potential and limitation of a certain technology and its political, cultural and social implications. I want technology to provoke thought but also emotion. I am tired of new media art works that are just silly and lazy and privileged. That kind of approach is such a first world approach to technology. I want to see more serious, more radical, more emotional/poetic and challenging works around me.
Filippo Lorenzin: From that statement, I see the core concept of Material Speculation: ISIS. You’re not referring only to 3D printing but also to all the other technologies and practices that have been implemented to copy images in history (like etching, photography and video) – am I wrong?
Morehshin Allahyari: No. Exactly right. Anything that can tell a story, that can document our lives, the tragic, the dark, the complicated and yes fucked up lives we live as humans. Imagine in 500 years, going back and looking at these and finding it all so odd and irrelevant and ridiculous. I’m fascinated by that idea. By using technology to step out and look at our present and our contemporary world. To use technology in conjunction with meaningful social and political activism and practices.
Filippo Lorenzin: In my opinion, one of the most interesting points of this project is letting a lost object to proliferate in many copies, without any control. Is it a direct response to Isis attack or is it more related to Occidental way to use these kinds of technologies?
Morehshin Allahyari: I would say both. The many copies could hopefully make up for the many views that the video of the artifacts being destroyed by ISIS has received but also for resisting the destruction and the loss. Think about many copies of the artifacts as a physical way of “going viral”. Because so much of the propaganda and promotion method for ISIS is about going viral and using memes and the internet to get as many views and as much attention as possible. So perhaps the many 3D models and 3D printed copies can become both a digital and a physical response to that. The more the merrier. But also to become a metaphoric and practical ways of being remembered; Of keeping a history alive. A response to “forgetting” or wanting a past to be forgotten.
Filippo Lorenzin: I’m fascinated by the look of the 3D copies: they’re semi-translucent, looking similar to their original files displayed on the screen. They’re not miming an ancient look, but instead they’re manifesting themselves as “new” objects. Why did you choose this material?
Morehshin Allahyari: I wanted the material to be clear because I wanted the flash memory and flash drives being visible from the inside of the artifacts. Because the research aspect of this project, finding information about the artifacts that were destroyed (which one were original, which were duplicates, what their names were, what their history was, etc) was a way more complicated process than I had imagined. So research and gathering this information became such an important aspect of this project that I wanted to make sure it becomes a visible and meaningful layer in the presentation of the artifacts themselves. The lack of knowledge being replaced with access to knowledge like the destroyed artifacts being “replaced” by the 3D printed versions. And here I am putting “replace” in quotes, because I don’t think there is actually a real/honest way that one can replace these artifacts.
In addition, these artifacts that I have 3D printed are printed in resin material which makes the artifacts more dense and heavy in weight, which is I think perhaps the closest to the stone/ancient feeling of the original artifacts that I could create using a 3D printer. But also as you mention they are now new artifacts: only a re-creation, a re-presentation, a reference to history, to the past. A time capsule for the future but nothing like the original.
Filippo Lorenzin: As you said before, in 2015 you worked with artist and writer Daniel Rourke from MachineMachine.net blog, to The 3D Additivist Manifesto. A call to arms for artists, writers and engineers to use 3D printing in radical, critical ways. How is it related to Material Speculation: ISIS?
Morehshin Allahyari and Daniel Rourke: In devising The 3D Additivist Manifesto we spent a long time debating the critical foundations of 3D printing, and this lead us to consider the history and politics of plastic – one of the most commonly used materials in additive manufacturing. Plastic is a derivative of crude oil, and much can be said about the social, economic and geo-political questions that raises.
Material Speculation: ISIS echoes some of those questions back. There is a long conversation to be had about how the turmoil between West and the Middle Eastern stems from that dark, rich liquid. Perhaps though, a more complicated answer to your question relates to the power of objects themselves. Human culture is bound to its objects, whether in the form of ancient religious icons or contemporary mass produced luxury items. ISIS committed their acts of vandalism against those statues because they represented a set of concerns and realities that they wanted to suppress. Or at least they believed that by destroying those objects in front of cameras, and broadcasting their acts to the world, they were making a statement against the past and their control over present and future. But what ISIS did not understand is that the ideas, values and principles they attacked were not bound to any particular material substrate. Ideas are as free as the forms one adheres them to. The objects we researched for Material Speculation: ISIS are now free to flow as zeroes and ones; as digital files. And those files can be altered, edited and reconstituted in countless materials – or no materials at all – able to jump across continents and cultures as easily as the videos of ISIS carrying out their destruction in the first place.
There is something about the power of an idea to transcend its object that influenced us when we wrote The 3D Additivist Manifesto. We are currently looking through the submissions sent to us for our forthcoming 3D Additivist Cookbook, and it’s exciting to see the potential of the 3D printer unleashed through people’s ideas. The 3D printer is an inherently radical technology because it brings attention once more to the potential of particular forms to embody and carry ideas. Ideas are radical things, and the 3D printer allows them to flow like never before.
Filippo Lorenzin: This project is in progress, right now. When do you think it will be finished?
Morehshin Allahyari: This is the toughest question to answer. Both practically and mentally. I am currently working on 3D modeling and 3D printing couple of more artifacts and gathering more and more information about them to include in the flash memories. I am not planning on working on all the pieces that were destroyed by ISIS because that is not necessarily the point of my project as an art piece.
Filippo Lorenzin: Will it have an end?
Morehshin Allahyari: I want to say yes! Hopefully it will have an end. But the truth is that as I continue working on these pieces, I don’t know what the end really means anymore. Eventually nothing is going to really replace the historical objects that are lost. I have never done a project where I have felt so conflicted about how to call it a “finished” body of work. So I do go back and forth everyday asking myself the very same question. Perhaps I should come to peace with the fact that there is no real end to this project; no end to extremism and our failure as cultures and humans as long as we exist in the current “forms” and “bodies”.