Inside the Collection

An interview with Matthew Connell, curator of ‘Out of Hand: Materialising the digital’ exhibition

Out of Hand: materialising the digital, exhibition views
Out of Hand: Materialising the digital, exhibition views. MAAS image.


nullMatthew Connell, was lead curator on Out of Hand. Here he discusses his approach to the exhibition with fellow MAAS curator Anni Turnbull.

What is the exhibition about?

It’s a look at the world of digital manufacturing and an acknowledgement that the digital world is now imposing itself on the material world in a way that breaks down a long standing dichotomy. The exhibition contains examples of what’s happened in the last ten years from artists, designers, some engineers and scientist using digital technologies.
We have also used the MAAS collection to find examples of various past manufacturing techniques and technologies that are now getting a new lease of life through digital manufacturing technologies. Out of Hand represents not just technologies but ideas and it’s the thematic concepts that hold this exhibition together.

What were the challenges of curating this exhibition?
It’s always a challenge working across interdisciplinary areas, initially we were going to create an exhibition that was mainly art and design works building onto the themes created by the Museum of Art and Design, (MAD),New York original exhibition. We intended to add Australian engineering, science and medicine, as a separate section. However we ended up integrating them. Elegant design and a strong narrative have enabled a successful juxtaposition of art and science in a way that adds rather than detracts.

Out of Hand: materialising the digital, exhibition installation. Staff at work.
Out of Hand: Materialising the digital, exhibition installation. MAAS Image


What were the challenges for designers in creating a space to support that narrative?

We wanted a space that reflected the ideas of the exhibition and employed LAVA architects, who use digital techniques and reflect the digital in their design. The design needed to cater for the diverse requirements of the 100 objects, from large things like the Mouse-Trap making machine to tiny pieces of jewellery. Some things needed to be covered and protected because of their fragility and value, others needed to be in the open to be seen. LAVA presented a very creative design, with a 3D printed concept model of the design.

There was a series of negotiations around space and fitting in the artifacts and we have created a beautiful exhibition. The design has created very curved spaces with a number of layers, it was the sort of form that would have been very difficult to deliver using traditional manufacturing techniques but curves can easily be done with CNC(Computer Numerical Controlled) cutting.

What are some of the challenges of 3D technologies?
The ‘inBloom Dress’ by XYZ Workshop is made from flexible plastic PLA (Polylactic acid), which is fantastic because its biodegradable, but as an institution committed to holding things for ever biodegradability has certain drawbacks. Fortunately we have just created a new Museum collection facility that has fantastic cold storage units able to preserve our plastic collection. We also have the ‘inBloom Dress’ code so, we can print another one. It raises questions about the value of the digital and what is authentic or real in the digital world.

InBloom Dress
InBloom Dress, 2014, XYZ Workshop (Melbourne), Flexible PLA, 3D printed fabric.

What surprised you in researching the exhibition content?
Surprises came from discussions I had with scientists on where they are planning to take their work, like the real life medical applications, 3D printed replacement body parts like hip, heel, sternum, are now done incorporating traditional scanning technology to form a body part that is ready to fit into that space. One of the next stages is creating replacement body parts made of a material that will absorbed by the body, like magnesium.

The Australian National Nuclear Research and Development Organisation (ANSTO) is using a neutron beam to scan fossils embedded in rocks. The neutron beam works like an x-ray, it sees different things,  It can register different substances. Using this beam you don’t have to break the rock as you would before to get to the fossil. The neutron beam is revealing things ANSTO and archaeologists didn’t even know were there. The residue of soft material can now be seen, parts like the brain and the eye, and they can print the fossil without the rock, scale it up and take slices from it and pull it apart. It has enormous potential.

What do you see as future trends?
From a Museum perspective 3D technology will allow people to do things with museum collections that they currently can’t do. The Museum is mainly a visual medium, which is fine if you can see and fine if you can interpret what you can see. But so many of our artifacts were designed to be held, so much more can be determined if you can pick something up and hold it in your hand, and turn it around to fully appreciate it. Because of preservation obligations, we are a no touch zone, and we keep things forever. We can, though, make facsimiles for people to touch, Also for people who can’t come into the Museum, the object 3D files can be made available to regional schools or anywhere in the world.

Morehshin Allahyari, Material speculation-King Uthal
Image Courtesy: Morehshin Allahyari,
Material speculation-King Uthal


A couple of your favourite works?

Museums recognise the way physical objects are like a memory device, an anchor for knowledge and stories related to place and culture. Artists like Moreshshin Allahyari are using digital technology to help make up for what is lost. Allahyari gathered photos, videos, drawings and other information to make the Material speculation: ISIS (2015-2016) series. This isseries of 13 3D printed models of the artifacts destroyed by ISIS at Mosul, Iraq. The models are embedded with a chip containing their 3D printing file.  The file for KIng Uthal is now on the web, so others can help preserve and create a version of this lost heritage.

Also a stereolithographic projection by Belgium artist Julien Maire. This projection Man at work uses a 3D printed film and shows an endless loop of little 3D printed men digging a hole in the ground. It’s a beautiful reflection on 3D printing as additive and subtractive manufacture, But I relate to it as a man who often finds himself digging himself a hole.


The ‘Out of Hand‘ exhibition runs until 25th June 2017.


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