A thought-provoking story: artist Oliver Laric 3D printed seven Chinese cultural artifacts, which led to some controversy. Despite the fact he’s already created lots of 3D printed artifacts before without any problems, his 3D printing project of seven columns from the Old Summer Palace in Beijing was not received very positively by everyone. The general problem? He printed the columns in Norway, where they are currently stored. However, the artifacts are housed in Norway since they were looted from the Chinese back in 1860.
They are currently at the KODE Art Museum of Bergen, Norway. Recently, Chinese real estate developer Huang Nubo came to visit the museum and the fact that the columns were still in Norway dissatisfied him. It led to a conversation with the museum, and Nubo won: the relics will return to China by this fall to be stalled at China’s Peking University. It seems like a happy ending, and it was until 3D printing entered the game.
Laric, a 3D printing artist had made 3D prints of the columns and housed them at a nearby location, called the Entrée Gallery – also in Bergen. They will be on display until July 13, but he has uploaded the files for the 3D prints online, so everyone can 3D print their own column of the Old Summer Palace. From Laric’s perspective you could say this is a form of art and an example of contemporary open-source society.
Other voices, however, think Laric tries to use modern techniques to keep on stealing the Chinese columns. Laric does not agree on this and thinks his pieces of art rather expand the dialog of authenticity, by which we think he means today’s techniques can be used to precisely replicate artifacts, so: what is real? Interesting view, for sure.
In addition, the artist himself openly prefers the original ones, by saying: “When I got to see them live the first time, it felt like what I would imagine a pilgrimage feels like. As much as I love documentation, it was moving to touch them.” He encourages people to use his download files and alter the artifacts in any preferred way. “[They] are starting points, made to be used,” says Laric. “They are beginnings as opposed to finalities without an end.”
So does Laric steal the artifacts? Not in a literal way of speaking, as the real artifacts will still be sent back to China. However, he does create a 3D print of them and enables anyone to do the same, which makes the real artifacts not as exclusive as they could be. Or will this project have the opposite effect and will it work as a great publicity stunt for the actual columns? Both explanations can be justified, but only time will tell whether 3D printing cultural artifacts will be welcome in the modern world or not.
Credits images: Bent René Synnevåg.