Future Artist-Makers: The Exhibition

This exciting showcase of works created using new skills in digital technology titillates the imagination with its sense of eye-pleasing, interactive wonderment

Last Sign of Occupy by Jim Ricks

This exhibition is the latest stage in a programme of work that has so far lasted a year, and that has introduced a great number of artist-makers and young people from across Europe to the new technologies available at three leading FabLabs – at the Nerve Centre in Derry, at the University of Limerick, and at Madrid’s Ultra-lab.

The artist-makers have been exposed to the technology, the machines, and the processes, learning, exploring, experimenting, finding new possibilities and applications and directions, and then emerging at the other side.

Future Artist-Makers: The Exhibition shows the work 19 of them emerged with. Some are finished pieces, while others are still in development. In some cases, the artist-makers approached the process with a clear idea of what they wanted, of how they were looking to use the technology to create their work; in others, they approached with no clear idea at all. The work simply grew out of the techniques discovered during the process.

I think this is a terrific show. It’s really exciting, fantastic to look at, touch, and listen to. It’s got fun and wonder to it, and there’s a sense too of travel backwards and forwards in time, with some of the artists using the latest technology to explore afresh old traditions and techniques, as well as to find solutions to long-standing problems.

'Digital Veil' by Aoife Brown

'Digital Veil' by Aoife Brown

This is evident in clay and glass vases by Charles Stern and the Unfold studio in Antwerp. The processes available at FabLabs allow for a previously unavailable marriage between the two materials under heated conditions, which contract and expand at different rates. Here, the 3D printed clay can be combined with the handblown glass. The result is both beautiful and innovative, and opens up new avenues of production. The traditional and the new are similarly to be seen in 'Bilinski', by Francesco Pacelli. Collaborating with a ceramics workshop in Italy, he has blended the vertical building of 3D printing with a glazing technique dating back to the Renaissance. The result is a tall, bold, architectural vase, with both organic, fluid elements and geometric shapes.

The exhibition encourages exploration as well as displaying it. There are machines stripped open to show their workings, and bare circuit boards that invite the touch to create new sounds and connections. The sense is here that FabLabs are modern, interconnected sheds, where makers can tinker and question and discover.

Striking and surprising, the exhibition is full of fun, too. There is a 3D print of Michael Collins’ nose, modelled from a digital scan of a statue in Merrion Square, Dublin. There are miniature models of iconic musical instruments and popular consumer items displayed like sacred objects beneath glass domes. There is a display of monolutes, part of an investigation into instrument design and fabrication. Each lute will play a single note, and will be played by a monolute ensemble.

'MonoLute' by Ed Devane

'MonoLute' by Ed Devane

Alongside the lighter pieces, there are displays that show more serious intent. Juan Jose Tara’s 'Dsruptive' explores the growing oneness of human beings and technology and shows how simple circuit boards can be implanted into the human body. In the foyer there is NewPalmyra, a model of how virtual reconstruction techniques are being used to recreate ancient monuments destroyed by ISIS.

The show is packed with exhibits that inspire and fascinate and create a sense of wonder. For me, though, just personally speaking, two stand out. The first is 'Sound Surface', by Jonathan Keep. Here are four vases, each built from the base up using 3D printing techniques. In each case, the programme software took the sound waves from certain pieces of music to create the vase. I must be honest – I have no idea if that makes any sense or not, but that’s the best way I can describe it. The vases, then, are built from music – the bird song of the godwit, Herbie Hancock’s 'Watermelon Man', Bach’s 'Goldberg’s Variations', and 'Rhapsody in Blue', by Gershwin. The vases are beautiful and the idea is stunning. You can hold the music and feel it in your hands.

And then there’s 'More Men Than Columbus'. This is by Paola Bernadelli and is both beautiful to look at and rich and fascinating.  The work is based on a long-forgotten or overlooked moment in Derry~Londonderry’s history, when, in 1933, the Italian fascist General Italo Balbo brought an armada of flying boats to the city. Balbo and his men were given a civic reception and the city was decorated with flags and bunting. Across the wall, paper aeroplanes, laser-cut with letters, are arranged in formation. Below them are perspex sheets with extracts from local papers of the time. The words are cut into the perspex, and tell of how the general was 'met by the local fascisti group' and how a 'large number of fascists from Belfast and other parts of the Province' were expected to come to the city. It is a gorgeous work, full of movement, enhanced by the clarity of the technology.

More Men Than Columbus by Paola Bernadelli

'More Men Than Columbus' by Paola Bernadelli

The exhibits are arranged across two galleries, the walls of which have been painted in blocks of colour – red, blue, orange, green, yellow. The colours link usefully to the accompanying booklet, but, more than that, the design is fittingly clean, modern, bright, and bold. Curated by Declan Sheehan, this is an absolutely fascinating, highly rewarding show.

Future Artist-Makers: The Exhibition is now open and runs until February 26, 2017 at Nerve Visual Gallery in Building Eighty81, Ebrington, Derry~Londonderry. Opening hours: Tues - Sat, 10am - 5pm, Sun, 12pm - 6pm. Entry is free. The exhibition is funded by Creative Europe, the Department for Communities, Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the Acorn Fund. Follow Nerve Visual Gallery on Facebook and Twitter.