The cavernous room is littered with skulls shaped from intricate lace patterns in plastic, architectural forms under glass and delicate sculptures of reclining figures. In artistic flair they wouldn’t look out of place at the Tate Modern, but these exhibits share one common factor: they were shaped with a computer and printed out by a machine.
The 3D Printshow 2013, which opened on Thursday at London’s Business Design Centre, is Britain’s foremost showcase for the cutting-edge technology, which can now be used to create everything from robotics and bionic ears to high heels, film costumes and even the first printed car.
The fair has more than doubled in size after its inaugural year in 2012 and the organisers expect it to double again next year. An emerging focus of the show is art. It claims the gallery overlooking the main hall holds the world’s largest collection of 3D printed artworks, with prominent artists in the field including Joshua Harker, Matthew Plummer-Fernandez and Nick Ervinck.
“The show has artists from around the world, which is pretty exciting,” said Jon Fidler, founder of 3D printing design consultancy Modla.
“We are increasingly fascinated by the art aspect. The recent news around 3D printing has seen interest surge. The numbers of artists in contact is rising.”
As costs come down and the machines become more widely available, the community of artists choosing it as their medium is growing. From just over 20 artists in the first year of the 3D Printshow, there are now close to 45. Mr Plummer-Fernandez said he was attracted by the “creative energy that comes with emerging technologies” and the novelty of the new form.
Jim Stanis, a New York visual artist whose work is also on display, has been experimenting with 3D printing for two years. “This is basically a new medium for artists. How often in history do you get that?” he said. “In the past few hundred years you’ve had film, animation and photography. Those were all ground-breaking. This is the big thing of our time. The idea we can create things we couldn’t before is mind-blowing.”
Artists have travelled from all over the world to display at the fair. Kerry Hogarth, its founder and chief executive, said: “Artists are looking at what they can do with the technology. The gallery has grown and the ability of the artists is unbelievable.
“There are a huge amount of artists that are starting to step towards it. Some of those exhibiting were traditional sculptors and have made their first piece. They’re in awe of what they could achieve. It was something they couldn’t do by hand.” Lilia Ziamou, a sculptor who previously worked with stone and plaster, turned to 3D printing “because it is a new tool. It’s fascinating, it’s very exciting as a technology. The cost is quite high but hopefully it will come down quite soon”.
Louise Shannon, curator of digital design at the V&A, said: “It’s still pretty experimental. It’s the early adopters who are using it at the moment. When the material stabilises more, it may jump to the fine art market.”
The V&A explored 3D printing in a show called Power of Making in 2011. “It has often been deemed as the next industrial revolution. I’m not sure there’s another moment in recent history where you can say this changes everything as much as 3D printing,” Ms Shannon said.
It could take a big name artist to use 3D printing to take it to the mainstream, as with fashion when Iris van Herpen 3D-printed shoes.
“Last year we struggled to get five fashion designers that were at the quality of the catwalk,” Ms Hogarth said. “Now we’re turning them away.”