Being the Machine is an alternative 3D printer that operates in terms of negotiation rather than delegation. It takes the instructions typically provided to 3D printers and presents them to human makers to follow – essentially creating a system for 3D printing by hand with whatever tools and materials one deems necessary. It works like 3D version of a game of connect the dots: a 3D model is uploaded and sent to the printer, the printer draws a single laser point where the user should lay down their material, and as the laser point moves, the user follows, manually drawing the paths and layers until their model is complete. The system makes no attempt to guide the make or tell them how to be more precise or accurate, it simply presents the moves the machine would preform and asks the maker to take it from there.
The design of this system grew out of my shared interest in computational design, art-making, feminism in tech, and instruction art. I want this system to call values embodied in the design of 3D printers into question: why must working with 3D printers require us to delegate work to a machine? Could there be a way to work with 3D printing that was more cooperative, allowing human and mechanical modes of making to inform one another? These questions are important because not all modes of working are regarded with the same value to society. Delegation, control,and other “hard” or abstract styles of working are often seen as more sophisticated than work that engages unpredictability, negotiation, time, and cooperation. Existing 3d printer designs can be seen as a way of attempting to impose the will of human maker onto the world of passive materials where Being the Machine may be seen as a way of making by coming to understand the properties and behaviors of the world that cannot be controlled and working with them. Where most existing systems for 3D printing accomplish control by closing off making to forces of unpredictability (i.e. placing fabrication in a controlled lab, limiting participation, engineering custom materials), Being the Machine engages chance and indeterminacy by radically opening up the processes to unpredictable forces, creating more opportunities for materials to be resistant and reacted to. A “good result” with existing 3D printers is an object that exactly meets expectations while a “good result” with Being the Machine is one that emerges over time and practice and could not be predicted ahead of time. By subjecting the machine instructions to human interpretation and human motivation to machine interpretation, Being the Machine creates a space for negotiation, care, and cooperation in making. This blog catalogs my projects with this system and I’ve created an instructable in an attempt to mobilize a small army of 3D printers that prefer chance to control.