Print & Proxy /EN

Print & Proxy  Shape & Mesh
The re-productions explode in Fabian Hesse`s work

Olga von Schubert, 2014
   The term ‘exploded view drawings’, common in mechanical engineering, makes visible the explosive powers that reside within a construction plan. It is the name commonly applied since the 1940s to drawings that visualise a machine deconstructed into its individual parts or the actual workings of a particular construction. The example of an orderly, itemised internal bicycle gear hub (figure 1) shows that this representational form’s explosivity does not consist of segments actually being scattered across the pictorial plane but, rather, in the visual transparency of a usually closed gear mechanism.

Figure 1. Internal hub 3 speed Shimano Sears Sports Center – Scanned from a 1977 publication, published in the United States, with no copyright notice. (Owners manual for Sears bicycles 502.472684 (boys) and 502.472784 (girls), „Rev. 9-1-77“)

It is precisely at these points of intransparency that Fabian Hesse’s artistic work begins. He identifies the interface between humans and machines where digital and post-digital technologies, in particular in closing themselves off from their users, exert control instead of allowing for an experiential interplay between humankind and technology.

Inspired by DIY and free software movements, which position themselves against a product development dominated by patents and copyright, Fabian Hesse uses 3D printers to print the complete construction kits for yet more 3D printers while publishing their corresponding construction plans. Doing away with searching for the potential sales pitch, technology not only reproduces itself but so too do the ideas once published. Together they set into motion the formation of a community of technology, programming and developers – an association of people and things. In processes that almost resemble arcane alchemy, the movement and communication protocols of smartphones, amongst other things, are being materialised in Fabian Hesse’s work: the kind of communication metadata that holds so much interest for the Secret Services and companies.

In YahooMail or Open-Access-Manifesto, Fabian Hesse generates 3D prints made from data in his email accounts so that personal information, leaked data or text are transformed in the movement from one medium to another. A deliberate manipulation of the print process introduces disturbances to the formal transmission, allowing us to observe, layer upon layer, the complexities of 3D print construction, which at times resemble micro-geological formations, textiles or architectural models.

In his work STUXi DefCad the artist offered up his voice (and thus his body), in an interminable series of public readings, to the source code of an invisible, place-less and hence rather intimidating computer virus named stuxnet. Afterwards he captured parts from his reading of the code on vinyl, which as an individual reproduction – and in retro form – became a tactile object for visitors to experience. The stuxnet virus, created in 2007, is considered to be one of the first cyber weapons and is the blueprint for further virus variations such as flame, a virus which activates the microphones and cameras of infected devices without the user’s knowledge. Fabian Hesse’s work intends to once again render these processes into sensuous encounters, linking them back onto human bodies so that we are not left – unwillingly – at their mercy.

As early as 1953, in a lecture entitled ‘The question concerning technology’, the philosopher Martin Heidegger described his own time as the ‘age of modern technology’ /I. For him, it was the time for people to choose between a relationship with technology which was going to be either free or unfree. Human experience would remain unfree and chained to technology if it considered technology as something neutral. Such assumed neutrality would allow for concealing the individual components contained within any technology as well as its hidden energies. While for Heidegger technology was a means to an end – to be utilised – it is simultaneously by its very material, its form, purpose and effect, and not at least by human activity, something that is ‘completed through craft’. People are, according to Heidegger, able to ‘reveal’ [entbergen] and to bring into the open that which is concealed within technology; to ‘challenge’ and thus to ‘extract’ and ‘expedite’ the energies contained within the technology in order to then bring something into ‘presence’, to let it come to appearance in ‘bringing-forth’. So as not to become, unknowingly, a mere part of the technology’s ‘standing reserve’ – a mere component – humans need to ‘push forward’ technology.

Richard Sennett’s book The craftsman takes Heidegger up on his ambiguous use of the word technology – referring at once to ‘craft’ as a manual trade as well as to ‘technology’ itself. Sennett, with reference to Heidegger’s essay on technology, also critiques his insufficient vision of merely seeking a sustainable balance between humans and resources. According to Sennett, a more radical reinterpretation is required in order ‘to change both productive procedures and rituals of use’/II. Such a change is, however, already evident in Heidegger’s breaking with the common conception of how technology and the modern sciences are interconnected. Heidegger rejected the notion that technology is merely applied science that logically follows from scientific discovery (and thus incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t studied physics). Instead, for him, technology offers the opportunity to place oneself in relation to something – technology thus precedes modern sciences, making modern technologies possible in the first place. In Heidegger’s technology resides both danger and a ‘saving power’, the latter contained as mystery within it. Thus technology presents to humans both a passive as well as an active means to place oneself in relation to an other.

The objects and installations produced by Fabian Hesse in open and accessible Fab Labs attempt to track down this mystery of a technology of the (post)digital age that, intrinsic in the corporeality of human and thing, precedes science. His work is concerned with new technologies, their processes and their societal consequences.

In all this it is no accident that Fabian Hesse prints his 3D data de-visualisations in plastic. Plastic, according to Roland Barthes Mythologies (first published in 1957), is a material that does imitation like no other: ‘It is less a substance than an idea in its endless transformation’/III. Above all it is a product of mass production as well as a material that supplies each and everyone with an imitation of an original, individually delivered to each private life. Plastic builds a bridge between DIY, the maker movement, Arts and Crafts and industrial mass production; fields, that according to Florian Cramer’s text on post-digital aesthetics (published in 2013), are not longer separate from each other /IV. Fanzines, designs, prints and sculptures produced by digital home workers no longer stand in opposition to industrial mass production. Instead this mass production seems to now extend into each household. Self-made is what can be mass produced while the individual object is for all and sundry.

In such post-digital times of decentralised and immaterial technologies, when technical components become further and further removed from the human hand and seem to become, drone-like, unleashed, seemingly autonomous agents, then technical components – including humankind – enter new constellations. They diversify and form energetic fields like an explosion filmed in slow motion. The closing scene of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1970 film Zabriskie Point (Figure 2), e.g., shows such an explosion in slow motion: the whole interior of a modernist villa is suspended in space. We watch in alternation a wardrobe’s interior, like in the still here, lobster and oranges leaving the fridge and taking to the air.

Figure 2. Still from Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point (1970)

This scene from Antonioni’s psycho-active revolutionary drama demonstrates that such a type of explosion-like decentralisation and reproduction can provide the visual key for all that is concealed and intransparent, making (again) visible the underlying order of things. As in the exploded view drawings from the start of this essay, an internal structure becomes visible. This structure otherwise remains concealed in the finished product if neither product nor even less its process of production is accessible to each user. Fabian Hesse’s self-printed 3D printers and data visualisations connect the handmade with that which can be reproduced explosion-like and are thus able to capture the explosive power as a public installation. This process also serves to position the artist as creative producer as part of a relationship: when not only technologies produce reproductions but once technologies are able to reproduce themselves, the artist abolishes themselves in some way (without entirely delegating the thinking to the intelligent machine). It makes visible the fusing of production and reproduction, a relationship between body and technology, creative machine and artist as the printer or proxy between different servers and networks, which only an exploded view drawing could decipher from the entangled cable spaghetti.

I  Martin Heidegger (1977) The question concerning technology and other essays; New York: Garland, 1977 [first published in German 1953].

II  Richard Sennett, The Craftsman, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008, p. 12f.

III  Barthes, Roland, translated by Annette Lavers. Mythologies London: Paladin, 1972 [first published in French in 1957], p. 111.

IV  Florian Cramer (1 May 2013), „Post-Digital Aesthetics“, in: Jeu de Paume – Le Magazine.