Art & Sculpture

Review: V&A exhibition The Future Starts Here: Made In Space, Apple and Chelsea Manning featured

Self-driving cars, Apple’s corporate campus, and the 3D printed face of U.S. military whistleblower Chelsea Manning are currently on display at London’s V&A Museum.

Part of The Future Starts Here, the items contribute to an exhibition of 100 projects credited with “shaping the world of tomorrow.” A concept that reaches broadly across many available and developing technologies, it is interesting to see 3D printing make an appearance as a tool driving these exemplary projects.

This week I was given the opportunity to visit London’s V&A museum and discover more about the future as envisioned by an internationally renowned institution, put together in collaboration with Volkswagen – the official sponsor of the event.

This just in... Photo by Beau Jackson
This just in…
Photo by Beau Jackson

A vision of the future, as seen by technology 

If there’s one thing to be said about the V&A’s The Future Starts Here exhibit, it is that it has an incredibly ambitious brief. The exhibit is laid-out in 5 equally provocative sections, introduced by questions such as “We are all connected, but do we feel lonely?”, “Does democracy still work?” and “If Mars is the answer, what is the question?” exploring Self, Public, Planet and Afterlife. Trying to condense all the possibilities into one room certainly isn’t achievable, but the curators give it a good shot.

Upon entry, visitors are greeted by a plastic pink, green and yellow doll’s house with Tesla’s Powerwall rechargeable home battery presented at the top, perhaps incidentally, as a kind of illuminated deity.

Below it there is BRETT – a robot in development at the University of California, Berkley, capable of doing the laundry – setting a strange tone for the start of the exhibit (Is being human all about doing chores?).

BRETT - the "Berkeley Robot for the Elimination of Tedious Tasks" at The Future Starts Here. Photo by Beau Jackson
BRETT – the “Berkeley Robot for the Elimination of Tedious Tasks” at The Future Starts Here. See also, Tesla Powerall, top & center. Photo by Beau Jackson

The digital, 3D printed reconstruction of Chelsea Manning’s face

The first 3D printed objects you come across are two hard-to-ignore face masks of Chelsea Manning.

The face mask, or portraits, were created in 2016 by transdisciplinary artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg. At the time, Manning had been imprisoned for leaking military documents to anonymous disclosure portal WikiLeaks, exposing evidence of potential abuse by the U.S. military. In prison Manning could not be photographed. And so, Dewey-Hagborg created the masks using DNA extracted from hair samples and cheek swabs sent by Manning through the mail.

Radical Love: 3D printed portraits of activist Chelsea Manning by artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg. Photo by Beau Jackson
Radical Love: 3D printed portraits of activist Chelsea Manning by artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg. Photo by Beau Jackson

The official title of the piece, Radical Love, is derived from Manning’s famous words:

“Is it radical to seek justice? Is it radical to be rescued by love? Is it subversive to be sweet? Is it radical to be true to yourself?”

As Dewey-Hagborg explains, “The title of the piece […] comes from Chelsea’s resistance to the idea that she or her ideas are radical – a term she sees as polarizing and alienating. Instead, she points to how incredibly common it is to love and to simply want to be oneself.”

Until 2017, the 3D printed portraits served as the only public images of Manning following her 2016 gender transition.

In the V&A exhibit, the faces serve to show “the wealth of information available in the smallest traces of our bodies.”

Tools in sites of conflict 

The second instance of 3D printing is a spotlight of the Refugee Open Ware (ROW) project. Leveraging the e-Nable network, ROW provides people with the DIY training and a portable 3D printing facilities to give refugees fleeing sites of conflict the tools to produce the objects they need.

As representative of the project, a small, custom-made 3D printed hand for a child is presented inside a temporary metal shelter.

Inside the Refugee Open Network shelter. Clip by Beau Jackson
Inside the Refugee Open Network shelter. Clip by Beau Jackson

3D printing in space

A little disappointingly, for those of us in the know at least, the section emblazoned with the text “If Mars is the answer, what is the question?” did not include any 3D printed regolith. However, this is the section where BMW and MIT’s 3D printed inflatables are featured.

To much excitement (from me at at least) high up on a plinth in the Planet section there is also a mobile of tools and samples 3D printed on the Made In Space Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) aboard the International Space Station.

Made In Space is already at the next stage of off-world additive manufacturing, working on a micro-gravity metal 3D printer. And the development of the satellite 3D printing Archinaut recently reached record-breaking lengths.

A mobile of tools 3D printed on the ISS by the Made In Space AMF. Photo by Beau Jackson
A mobile of tools 3D printed on the ISS by the Made In Space AMF. Photo by Beau Jackson

The future is…

Overall, The Future Starts Here is a thought-provoking perspective of technologies making an impact on the present day, and a multiplicity of directions for future development.

Beyond 3D printing, it is also worth making a visit to the exhibition to take a virtual (stationary) ride in Volkswagen’s autonomous car Sedric, and listen to a sobering presentation on the potential impact of climate change.

To learn more about the predicted Future of 3D Printing, revisit our guest article series here.

The Future Starts Here exhibition will run until Sunday, 4 November 2018 at the V&A Museum, Cromwell Rd, Knightsbridge, London SW7 2RL.

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Featured image shows Radical Love: 3D printed portraits of activist Chelsea Manning by artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg. Photo by Beau Jackson