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Disrupting the Continuum

Mark Hancock

Featured image: Urinal, 2011, 3D printable digital model. Model by Chris Webber, commissioned by Rhea Myers

Rhea Myers is an artist and programmer and keen advocate of the Open Source Software culture and community. Much of the work he creates and the ideas he explores are rooted in sharing; making works that are available for others to use in their own way. This concept can be something of a paradigm shift for a traditional art world – where the notion of an artist as someone visited by the muse and given divine insight into some aspect of the world around us reigns supreme. We imagine said artist sharing their visions through one-off artefacts that become valuable in the competitive marketplace of the consumerist commercial art world.

The Shareable Readymades project works within the realms of Net art, but Shareable Readymades are output as a real-world object. Using a downloadable, freely licensed 3D model of the art work, Shareable Readymades can be printed using modern 3D printing technology wherever the equipment is available. The code for creating the 3D models is available on several websites including Rhea Myers’ own Github account. The artefacts are scalable, which gives the option of deciding what size – up to that of the original item – they print at.

Beyond the idea of a ready-made artefact is the thought, lingering in the air between creation and conception in this work, of the digital blueprint for it: the Blender file (Blender is the 3D software used to model the work). Given the digital and mechanical process involved in creating the work and the tightly wound connection between them, it might seem difficult to know where in the process the work actually comes into existence? Perhaps it is easier to think of the entire process as being the product itself. With 3D printing another possibility emerges: that 3D printing isn’t the total artefact in itself. In industrial design, pieces are created to give real form to objects and allow designers to have a tangible example of what they are trying to develop. They become a step in the production and act as a conceptual point in a longer process. Rhea Myers’ Shareable Readymade Urinals are close to the conceptual nature of Duchamp’s ‘readymades’ – specifically Fountain – because they will never become functioning objects. In our understanding, they increasingly come to represent ethereal objects removed from function, or a discussion about the increasingly fuzzy line between everyday objects and objects defined as ‘art’.

There’s a process of induction into ‘being’ involved and part of this is the commissioning. Myers commissioned the 3D models from Christopher Webber and then made them publicly available for download so that anyone can own an original piece of art.

In Abstract Hacktivism, Otto Von Busch and Karl Palmas lay out an argument for reconfiguring the way we think about the world around us. Tracing a path from Michel Serres through to Manuel DeLanda, they argue that new developments in technology change the language and by corollary, the way we frame our thoughts about the world. As DeLanda has said:

“He [Serres] sees in the emergence of the steam motor as a complete break with the conceptual models of the past. […] When the abstract had been dissociated from its physical contraption [the actual motor] it entered the lineages of other technologies, including the “conceptual technology” of science.”[1]

The essays in this all-too-short book end with the personal computer and how we think about society in terms of hardware. The authors only briefly touch on the emergence of software as a means for constructing metaphors for contemporary life, and Rhea Myers’ ‘readymades’ take this even further, encountering the idea of production.

The digital production and mechanical output perfectly summarise so much about life in the 21st Century. Our understanding of consumerism itself is gradually changing thanks to the growth of Internet shopping. We select our produce from a database of text and imagery. Yet we still believe in the freshness and perfection of the perfect apple – selected according to standards and criteria set by an army of corporate non-entities. The artificiality of the image of the apple could be taken as a reflection of the artifice of the marketplace shopping ‘experience’ we’re led to believe still has some semblance to our forebear’s means of hunting and gathering. Sometime later we take delivery of a perfectly formed apple. The difference between the database version and our own is so insignificant that they may as well be the same thing.

The urinal – the ‘original’ Duchampian urinal – appears in the art history continuum like the database image of the apple. The perfect version waiting to be analysed (read: consumed) by potential shoppers (read: art historians). Every version is now perfect and exactly what we ordered, in exactly the colour we requested. There is little opportunity for malfunction and serendipity in the process. Art becomes exactly what we ordered it to be. Fresh, ripe and leaving no bad taste in the mouth afterwards.

Sadly, what Duchamp missed out on was the final phase in the act of converting everyday objects into art. He should have realised that the real act of art-world transmutation was to then convert them back into everyday mass-produced objects. Thereby proving that art is merely a phase that things can pass through as and when the artist says they do. However, perhaps contextualising Rhea Myers’ project within the marketplace lends itself too easily to the idea that the artworks are for sale? It would be a mistake to imagine that the point of this project is to create a new way of purchasing and owning art. An intrinsic aspect though, is the Open Source and unrestricted dispersal of the idea and ability to create your own version. Ownership, in the traditional sense of that word, isn’t being claimed by Myers. Creating your own version means that you outright own that object. In a more traditional art environment, even though you may have contributed to a piece of work (some Fluxus projects might come to mind. Yoko Ono’s art, to name just one) you still won’t be credited with ownership or creative partnership status. The market relies on the single authorship model. Multiple unnamed authors would just get confusing and complex when copyrights start to be discussed. Locating the project within Open Source means that ownership is not claimed, but credit should be given where credit is due. When art collectors talk about merely looking after a work for the next generation, they’re talking about a continuum of ownership running through the decades. But art reduced to a commodity is saying nothing of any real value, surely?

By choosing to download and print a version for yourself you have the opportunity to own the work and be a part of that disruptive process. Owning a piece of art that comments on the past, present and future of the art world and marketplace must surely be something to desire and possess?

You can find Mark’s original article on Collaboration and Freedom – The World of Free and Open Source Art

Part of the Furtherfield collection commissioned by Arts Council England for Thinking Digital. 2011

1 DeLanda, M. (_99_) War in the Age of Intelligent Machines. New York, NY.: Zone.

1 DeLanda, M. (_99_) War in the Age of Intelligent Machines. New York, NY.: Zone.