Map-like Collages Made With Thousands Of 3D-Printed Plastic Models

Species-Tool-Being No. 5 (Detail)

“Hopefully this isn’t all too abstract. I do tend to micromanage my writing,” warned the New York-based artist Shane Hope when he sent me a reply to a series of questions I’d shot his way, through email, about his work. 

But even with his warning, I was barely prepared for the cognitive assault that comes with interviewing Shane Hope. In a rare symbiosis of art and ideology, Shane's writing mirrors the complexity of his collages. Both are full of ambiguity, simultaneously slippery and opaque, and full of allusions. At first glance, it's overwhelming. Crazy, even. But look closely, and you'll discover endless pools of fascinating (and occasionally very funny) ideas hiding in between his insanely "micromanaged" work.

If you haven't seen pictures of Shane's work floating around the Internet, it's about time you dedicate some staring time to his extraordinarily intricate assemblages--dizzyingly complex collages made with thousands of tiny, 3D-printed plastic models, painstakingly layered on top of each other to form a kind of latticed alien landscape. 

The 3D-printed models are based on computer renderings of various molecular structures--some real, others totally made up. In this way, Shane's work straddles the worlds of art, science and technology, while slyly comparing the utopian promises of 3D printing and molecular manufacturing. "I feel my work foreshadows a forthcoming age of programmable matter," Shane explains, "it’s one thing to algorithmically push pixels or plastic around. It’ll be quite another thing altogether when it’s atoms." 

Nano-Nonobjective-Oriented Ontograph No. 1

The Creators Project: Your references to biology, quantum mechanics, and ontology in your work seem pretty unusual. What sparked your interest in these topics?

Shane Hope: As an academically fickle autodidactic polymath, I've always considered my praxis to be research-based, and I’ve quite conscientiously studied art in New Genres, Interdisciplinary and Information Arts programs and at research institutions predominately to remain proximate to the sciences. About a decade ago, I decided I'd begin correcting for fallacious depictions of the far future. Utopian or dystopic alike, space operas sporting singleton meat-sack humanoids wrapped in naval or world-mythic metaphors were the worst most myopic result of lazy technological extrapolation there was. Fed up, I began voraciously ingesting all things technoprogressive, transhumanist, H+, hard sci-fi and singularitarian, hoping to filter out fodder for more forward-looking and worthwhile visual responses, thereafter determining my work to be first and foremost a form of Future Studies.

How can the future’s futures however indirectly be foreseen? Can we really depict the runaway imaginings of accelerated artificial intelligences? What would it look like if and after our overclocked-offspring (quicker-thinking posthuman descendants) decide to disassemble everything we know for spare parts? It’s to struggle with these sorts of questions and to effectively anticipate that reality race that my work starts.

Nano-Nonobjective-Oriented Ontograph No. 1 (Detail)

What overarching themes are you trying to explore? In other words, what ideas are you weaving together underneath all of this chaos?

Accelerating progress in Molecular Nanotechnologies (MNT) continues to expand the toolkit with which we can eventually assemble things from the atom up. This will potentially give rise to nearly costless systems for controlling the structure of matter itself. In the interim, the 3D printing revolution is said to have already arrived, promising content-to-print solutions and on-demand means of increasingly customizable production. But molecular manufacturing and 3D printing won’t merely make for an end to material scarcity as we know it. These so-called 'abundance' technologies will make for objecthoods the likes of which we’ve not known and maybe can’t completely know this side of some sort of 'technological singularity' beyond which materiality itself appears wholly unpredictable without radical mental augmentations.

So, my main goal of late has been to visually relate the operative ideologies, promises, and hype of 3D printing to the R&D and speculations surrounding theoretical molecular manufacturing. I'm rather over the folk psychological novelty of 3D printing for its own sake. Through this medium, I’m trying to increase awareness of imminent object-shock. I think it's important to problematize prototyping at this point to expose that which isn't exhausted or collapsed into fully exploitable usability in the Functionalist sense.I aim my machines at actuating anythingyness artifacts for thing-in-itselfhoods.I feel my work foreshadows a forthcoming age of programmable matter, for it’s one thing to algorithmically push pixels or plastic around, it’ll be quite another thing altogether when it’s atoms.

Nano-Nonobjective-Oriented Ontograph No. 1 (Detail)

Are there specific types of molecules that you prefer to incorporate into your paintings, or is it more of a free for all?

I incorporate a variety of .pdb (Protein Data Bank) files, nanomolecular machine component models, junk DNA sculptural origami and lots of novel inorganic materials such as sheets of graphene, etc. I also make models myself, atom by amino. After both building and appropriating models, I algorithmically-automate alternative representations of selected atoms plus perform generative crystallography; coding for attaching atoms and fractalizing aminos off forms. Albeit aesthetically abstracted or ornamentally challenged, my modded models are still largely legible to bio- / nanotech researchers versed in molecular visualization.

Nano-Nonobjective Oriented-Ontograph No. 2

Can you summarize the process behind your 3-D printed paintings?

From molecular modeling to 3D printing, my open-source Linux-based toolchain is considerably lengthy. Many of my wares I'm myself modifying and configuring before compiling and plenty of python scripting is going on throughout too. I also always assemble all my own hardware from scratch. There's definitely a discernible difference to pursuing an Arduino-based RepRap piecemeal approach to 3D printing rather than building some 'some-assembly-required' kind of kit such as an Ultimaker, Up!, or Makerbot. Sourcing or printing all your own parts separately and having to hand-hobble it all into working order each time produces printers with personality. If you can hack them well enough, these machines prove to exhibit expressionistic potential. I can hear my gear and let it talk too. My printer-family-farm of mind-child-playborers and I share together in new collablobjecthoods. This is the hyperextended hand of the artist.

I use paint as a binder to affix my 3D printed molecular models to sundry substrates and do so in an emergent manner. Nano-Nonobjective-Oriented Ontographs and Species-Tool-Beings are sculptural reliefs and yet somewhere between collage and assemblage since some models are printed paper-thin. When I say I work to inscribe object-to-object fault lines of relata distortion on equal ontologically flattened footing with humans, 'fault lines' can also be taken to mean literal painterly reconciliations; precisely that which must behave like scar tissue, as evidence of paying dues, earning injuries and also healing.

The time it takes me to complete any given piece is difficult to quantify because I frequently work on a bunch at a time and there are also lots of overlapping phrases of production involved: writing code, rendering / processing files, 3D printing and painting / composing. All the same, I'd guesstimate that my larger pieces probably take up to a month.

Nano-Nonobjective Oriented-Ontograph No. 2 (Detail)

I read that you use PyMol to render visualizations of molecular structures. And does it connect you with a larger, scientific community?

PyMol is a python-based molecular visualization suite. It's one of many research wares with which I operate that are otherwise exclusive to bio- / nano- engineers. I use not so much the most user-friendly stuff. Doing science proper I am not though. I'm repurposing the language of molecular modeling just enough to relay to viewers a sense of how hacking matter happens.

Your paintings are extremely intricate—were you trying to play with macro vs. micro views?

They display the density of how much can simultaneously exist more like manifold meanwhiles all the way across. So sure, Scriptable-Scalable Species-Tool-Beings resemble SEM or STM imagery yet also barnacles or coral and geologic or stratigraphic maps. I've coined the neologism 'transubstrational' in some measure to help handle this breadth of built-being. The phrase 'substrate independent' too often occurs in the context of artificial general intelligence research and other infomorphiliac post-meatbody uploady meta-mental musings. My term 'transubstrational' asserts there is no mind sans substrate. Transubstrationality is inclusive of sundry subtler, slower states of transitional or transgressive living less about leveling-up than leveling-across any and many orders of scale and substrates.

Nano-Nonobjective Oriented-Ontograph No. 2 (Detail)

Is your work deliberately trying to be opaque, and if so, what are the benefits of hyper-complexity (both conceptual and aesthetic)?

Many have been too hypnotized by technocratic solutionism to see that not all clarity is benevolently about accuracy and not all lack thereof should be immediately suspect. Getting obsessive-compulsive about the future can be counterproductive inasmuch as it often precludes a greater gamut of adaptability. Ambiguity, opacity, allusion, metaphor and semantic slippage can all serve as really important tools when making artwork, or realities for that matter. From the butterfly flap you choose, emerges the superstorm you deserve.

Why do you call your paintings “ontographs”? What kind of ontology are you trying to graph out?

Aside from Future Studies, I've also been recently reading a lot of Object-Oriented Ontology and Speculative Realism writings, especially Graham Harman and Ian Bogost. Ontographs and carpentry are key concepts. Carpentry can now be considered an act of making an object become philosophy. My approach to painting is to span solution spaces across problems. Some artists show only answers, whereas I show the work. Ontographs are cartographies and geographies of ontologies. I consider my compositions to be ontographic compendia constructed as a consequence of carpentry serving to lay bare object-to-object operations. Objects are overmined as more about their semantic-brainstorm-cloud formations of computability above and beyond them. Clusters of qualities do not alone make for an object. Objects withdraw from epistemological exhaustion. Subunits or parts of objects provide qualities serving only as temporarily useful caricatures. Artifacts are kinds of qualities that objects do. It should by now be better understood that the sum of the parts is actually much greater than the whole. I make metaphors for maps well exceeding their territories; carpentered cartographies manifest to meet the demands of outright accelerated adjustments to materiality.


In addition to those 3D-printed paintings, you also have works like atomic_kill_threads, which looks much more abstract and glitch-y (and appears to be flat). What’s the conceptual difference between something like atomic_kill_threads and nano-nonobjective-oriented ontograph?

That atomic_kill_threads picture belongs to my Qubit-Built Quilts series which are 2D archival pigment prints. Qubit-Built Quilts are what I initially called painterly plans for playborground ball pits of pure operationality all about atomic admin access-privs picturesque. They include thousands of organic, inorganic, synthesizable, theoretically feasible and nano-nonsensical molecular imagery with monosemic clarity unavailable after those same forms are sliced and diced into 3D printable derivations for use in Species-Tool-Beings, etc. So, the focus for the flat stuff is on supersaturating an all-of-the-above color palette, tweaking the representational rubric of molecular visualization itself and to goad glitchy render modes and ray tracings.

The titles of your work are extremely detailed. They seem to match the intricacy of the content, and contain some portmanteaus/made-up words, but also references to scientific terms. Plus, they’re joined together by dashes or underscores…like molecular structures. What’s going on?

Post-printability of anythingyness means we won't just be saying stuff, we'll be saying in stuff itself. I like to think this'll be like thinking in objecthoods or talking more like manipulating materiality Dashes or underscores like bonds between atoms exactly. To round out my visual art antics by indirectly describing that which for now defies depiction, I draft these pathetic-prophetic techno-poetic cognitive haze phraseologies, i.e. “nano-nonobjective-oriented ontographic scribblin’ on scriptable-scalable species-tool-beings quacker-castin’ computronium-clouds of kilo-IQ’d collablobject-oriented co-op-corporeal commons-clusters playborin’ with post-scarcity percept-pus and prescient-peek-a-boo public-panopticon-powdered plunderware-portraiture of grey-gooplexus-thunkuppetrees qubit-built-quiltin’ algorithmicracked-out junk-DNAnarch-keys to un-nanoblockonomic-lock fine-joules-bots that gots-lots-o-watts”. To the initiated, my writings prove parsable inasmuch as the content obviously originates from or refers to sci-fi, hacker, transhumanist, singularitarian, and futurological terminologies. Hitherto by others referred to as a rap, I tend instead to say I'm speaking 'in speculative-vernacular'.

All Images Courtesy Shane Hope