Simone Leonelli on the Blurred Boundaries between art, fashion and 3D printing

When art, fashion and 3D printing come together, the results can be simultaneously fascinating and perplexing. At the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA), Simone Leonelli, of the design W230 studio, has travelled along the fine line between the hand-crafted manufacture and automated additive manufacturing to produce the items for the exhibition “Blurred Boundaries“.

The exhibition is part of the Telstra Perth Fashion Festival cultural programme, a show all about the future of fashion.

3D printed shoes on display. Photo via Florian Michaud.
3D printed shoes on display. Photo via Florian Michaud.

The exhibition’s title itself may suggest confusion between worlds of design and technology, but to Leonelli, the two sit perfectly together. “Additive manufacturing is a technology and the use of it can be part of the Artistic process. Just like pencil and watercolour, the Art is made by the Artist that uses the tools, not by the tools themselves.”

Without these specific tools, the intricate neck-pieces, dresses and shoes found in this exhibition would not have been possible. “It is impossible to produce non-standard objects through traditional manufacturing methods, complexities can simply not be achieved through injection mould, or even milling processes.” Although the pieces could have by hand, the efficiency and the and the quality of the design would have been compromised.

Technological and artistic implications

And in truth, this is beside the point. The exhibition aims to demonstrate the potential what Leonelli describes as a “flexible and scalable technology”. Most of the pieces from the exhibition were made using a desktop FDM 3D printer and PLA material. “Whenever it is possible I prefer to use bio and 100% recyclable plastic”, he states.

So far, the items in blurred boundaries are interesting to look at, efficiently manufactured, and produced with ethical intentions. Can they be worn? “Some of the pieces could be worn whereas others are purely challenging concepts”, Leonelli replies, echoing an intention to focus on the process as much as the result.

I ask whether he thinks there is any tension between additive manufacturing as an emerging means of mass production, versus its use in this niche, artistic environment. “Mass is good only when it is necessary”, he replies, “otherwise it is a poor optimised process which is destroying our environment whilst also undermining the creativity and individualism of design.”

A 3D printed dress and neckpiece. Photo via Florent Michaud.
A 3D printed dress and neckpiece. Photo via Florian Michaud.

At the heart of reconciling 3D printing and individualised art is the ability to customise and personalise. “Think about the ability to produce several Taylor-made items instead of several copies of the same product for a diverse audience,” he adds.

A tradition of additive manufacturing and fashion

Leonelli certainly isn’t the first one to breathe life into the interaction between fashion and additive manufacturing. “I was inspired by the work of Nexi Oxman and as I find the work of her team one of the most fascinating”, he explains, noting the scientific approach over the artistic in her work. “Iris Van Herpen is a fantastic well known fashion designer, and her pieces are superb.”

But overall, Leonelli states that he is focussed on what additive manufacturing can do for him personally. “I am currently following my own way driven by what inspires and interests me.”

And the inspiration is very much set to be passed on. Accompanying the exhibition at PICA are a range of activities at aimed at children and teenagers. The interactive and educational aspect of the exhibition is of particular importance to Leonelli. “We are currently experiencing the Fourth Industrial Revolution . It can be described as the advent of ‘cyber-physical systems’ involving entirely new capabilities for people and machines.This transition from the 3rd and 4th IR is happening faster than what we were expecting, young people are the future users and builders of this new scenario.”

Simone Leonelli’s work can be found here and also on Instagram.

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Featured image shows a 3D printed dress on display at the exhibition. Photo via Florian Michaud.