Technoculture, Art and Games (TAG) is an interdisciplinary centre for research/ creation in game studies and design, digital culture and interactive art


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Tchotchke theory and 3D Printing

Posted by Bart

31104803_c7559b5b16_zSo our new Replicator 2 3D printer has arrived!  Why did we get it and what does it have to do with TAG?

To be perfectly honest, we did not have anything specific in mind when we ordered the Makerbot.  I have no doubt that it will be useful for the maker-tinkerer-designers at TAG, and I am intrigued by the idea of using the printer to make more robust prototypes for game projects or even abstract theory projects.  I see an immediate use in producing pieces for board games both in terms of modding existing games (like our discussion of 3D pieces for Settlers of  Catan) or developing new games around innovative pieces. Maybe there is life yet in the idea of material ARGs beyond Skylanders.  Aside from this however, there is the broader argument about the relationship of our research centre to the ‘critical making’ movement writ large.

In an odd way, having a 3D printer is a kind of symbolic declaration of a kind of wannabe participant at least and while I am curious about and wary of the cultural politics of the maker movement (like hacker  and FLOSS/open source cultures before it) the utopian idea of “printing” a new social-material order is too juicy to ignore.  There are wonderful questions about the relation of culture, participatory technologies and the object world that reside in the nascent practices of 3D printing and these issues directly inform our concerns about technoculture, art and games.

There is more to say however.  I have been half following the discussions about 3D printing with interest and beyond a very narrow subculture of DIY/Maker enthusiasts it looks as if our 3D printed world will be dominated by nothing short of a plethora of nic-nacs, thingamigs, thingums and odds and ends. Just check out Are these things we need or things we think we need?  Is this resistance to consumer culture or the apotheosis of it?

Unlike others I think there is more to this than the 3D equivalent of the early entry ubiquitous penis-creatures of Spore.  Is it really like this?  Give people the tools to create their own stuff and what do they make — penises and keychains. Facepalms all around… I have no comment about the penises (why are there not more penises on Thingiverse actually?  Don’t answer that) but I do have something to say about the keychains and other doodads that look like they came out of a Tokyo gumball vending machine.

I suggest that we are at the beginning of the Tchotchke revolution.  That’s right; tchotchke.  Its a Yiddish term that refers to the kind of useless, tacky yet also sentimental junk we often display on our shelves, in our drawers, and whatnot. Its not junk or garbage but it is also a category of things that is insulated from any implied instrumentality or use.

Note that I am not talking about 3D printed iphone cases here as such. Many people are convinced that these are useful either in terms of protecting their iphones or displaying their individuality, hipness and style. Tchotchke’s do neither of these things and what I am suggesting is that 3D printing turns iphone cases into tchotchkes.  At the very least it turns the 20 some odd other cases that are not on your phone at this minute into tchotchkes – they are probably stuffed into a drawer somewhere and you might or might not remember to look at them once in a while.  3D printing heralds the tchotchkification of things (eat your heart out gamification!).

The flip side of the iphone case is of course 3D printing as the liberation of sculptural art.  There are one of kind abstract pieces and figurines galore already but I am curious to see what will become works of contemplation and what will become tchotchkes on a shelf like so many of my kids’ school projects (and at least those have an important memory and nostalgia function in the context of parenting).  Again, the tchotchkification of art (well that actually started ages ago).

Let this be my opening salvo for tchotchke theory; not because I fear the tchotchke revolution because I welcome it as the cultural legitimation of the production of a class of absolutely useless things. You don’t need to pretend to need it nor pretend that its art and it becomes the act of making uselessness which curiously is something close to how we might think about play in its most social critical form (i.e. not gamification and serious games, etc…).

Let the revolution commence but please when you are done printing your shit please take it home.