Out Of Hand: Materialising the Digital

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“Examines the place and impact of new digital manufacturing technologies – 3D printing in its various forms, CNC machining, Laser cutting, and digital knitting and weaving”

Upon visiting the Powerhouse museum and the showcase that was “Materialising the Digital”, perhaps the greatest observation was that the iteration process and the value in producing a physical artwork, installation or interactive technology is perhaps an solely aesthetic purpose for some of these manufacturing technology. As we know, the act or potentials of some these practises don’t have the traction needed to be an everyday device like our smart phones or laptops, however 3D printing materials that we can emulate to showcase or surroundings, natural occurrences and bring to life, I believe is what Matthew Gardiner has captured perfectly with his art work Oribotics: The Future Unfolds.

Through the entrance of the gallery space at the Powerhouse museum toward ‘Out Of Hand’, Gardiner’s work is in the first room with its luminous pastel greeting of what initially looks like flickering LED bulbs. As encouraged, interaction is key but touch is disallowed, so naturally the audience including myself wanted to get as close as possible the the works to see which had the ability to change, or, that we could manipulate to accommodate each individual experience. ‘Oribotics’ again, maintained my full attention throughout the exhibit due to this personal reason. Every Time I interacted with the work it was based on my movements and my motivations and curiosity towards it. On first viewing and interaction, the robotics involved with the processes of opening and closing, had a blossoming affect. The origami design perhaps helped with this aesthetic and drew connotations to cultural representations of Japanese flora and art. As i drew closer and realised the proximal movement of the work, and began the interaction of judging the implications of standing closer and progressed to using my hands to make them expand and retract. This was all before researching the works, this was purely just my initial thoughts and curiosities. The display was across a rippling wall with each Oribot displaying a different colour light behind it depending on how close any interference was to its sensory trigger. I worked out that the closer the subject to the device, the warmer the colour (red, orange) and subsequently the further one pulled away the cooler (blue, green). The materials came across to me as a web like surrounding around a series of wires that are central to a mechanism that expands and retracts. My interactions with the device were captured at the time that can further explain this idea, thus;

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Throughout the exhibit the devices, were embracing a self directed approach while ever there was no interaction. This created an eerie nature to the room it was in due to the colourful contrast. I wanted to know why some movements I did, some being very similar, caused different levels of intensity to which the objects changed. Some of the devices had a more sensitive response to my hand than others, and some didn’t react at all to my hand but then would act autonomously without being provoked by an outside factor.

Matthew Gardiner is an interesting practitioner, in the way that he has so much to do with the values upheld by the University’s digital media encouragement and the way we should approach some of the projects we’re asked to create in a short amount of time. Instead of thinking about how we can use a device or technology to create something aesthetic, he grabs an idea or process that is already complicated and not associated with media art and technology, and uses his own skill-set set and research practise to try and represent this with a technology. Reverse engineering something that’s perhaps static in its practise but can take another simplistic form. This really resonated with my curiosity and perhaps my own creative endeavours in a lot of the technologies I’m personally involved with i’ve had to reverse engineer a practise for them within a creative space. Gardiner is a cross cultural interactor, meaning, he regards his works to be influenced by Japanese traditional (origami = oribotics, blossoming plants), Western ideas of technology (3D printing, sensory technology, LED lights) and the conversations between the two repeatedly as well as the response from the audience. Then he’s also an accomplished designer, working with material science and perfecting a fabric, experimentation and exploration of new ready technology and computer science so that the two can create a work (M, Gardiner 2010, vimeo). His background in a digitally dominated field allows him to exercise these kind of aesthetics within a work but explore deeper meaning associated to biological factors. This immediately got me interested in the way this artist thinks about the world and how process would be an interesting exploration for him when designing this particular piece. 
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Image: Jayne Ion, Facebook 2016


The work debuted at the Arts Electronica Festival in 2010, and introduced me to an interesting locational narrative to how the work came to life and dives deeper into the meaning behind materials and how the layers of research ultimately create such a successful work. The installation is situated in the FutureLab, directly above the BioLab and the FabLab. These two interact in the same way he considers himself cross-disciplinary.


The BioLab is a space whereby visitors to the centre can be showcased to methods whereby plants are synthetically cloned, it’s also symbolically situated in close proximity to the 3D printer that was used for the materials in the Oribotics. It’s interested in the ways biology interacts and the process connected to life and how artists in residence can represent this in their works, offering the patterns within a lifeform. The FabLab, is a space located opposite, and looks at the ways we can manipulate materials and use new technologies. Things like laser cutting and, for this work, 3D printers are focused on not for their aesthetic presence, but they’re ability to produce the materials within a work. The focus isn’t the process of the print, it’s the ability to be able to tinker with the materials of the work produced. The plastic use for Oribotics: The Future Unfolds, we made from the FabLab, as well as the corresponding folds, manipulations and designs for the devices.  The constant dialogue then from the origins of this work, includes the symbolic representations of the microscopic folds in the material used and thus “highlights the connection to the many contexts where folding occurs in nature, the most significant being the folding of proteins, including DNA” (Arts Electronic, 2010). Where these actions occur in nature and in the work, we can understand that even the slightest of mistakes could have rippling effects on the subject, it’s why Matthew Gardiner has given in-depth thought to the materials he’s chosen through understanding and trial and error.


His account of the materials for the Oribotics is best explain by him, where he talks about paper fibres were unsuccessful, due to the material fibres breaking when folded repeatedly. It was revealed at a 900x magnification that this was then going to affect the structural memory and integrity of the device. What his research discovered was that plastic polyester, as mentioned produced in the FabLab, had fibres within the material, that even though don’t break, still allow bending of the materials allowing a fold to be remembered within the device. The polyester therefore was deemed a stronger material to be used for the origami shapes as their entire aesthetic is the way they seamlessly fall back into shape every time. This artwork could then be produced with multiple iterations, with greater durability as well as keeping its structural memory that could then be programmed to perform the blossoming aesthetic.

discovering patterns that have complex expressions that can be repeatedly actuated” (ARS Electronica, 2010)

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Image: Jayne Ion, Facebook 2016

This process was perhaps an indication for fascination personally, due to this lifeless, meaningless and somewhat inanimate process of 3D printing, micro fabrics and robotics, being digitalised to assume life or resonate representations of life and purpose. Within a workshopping exercise in a gallery space at the digital media centre, an area of practise we were trying to discuss in terms of brainstorming potential project explorations. Subconsciously, this work resonated with me for that reason. I’m interested in the way Matthew has managed to duplicate a natural occurrence such as DNA protein folds and the precision involved, yet somehow related it back to his field practise that, initially if spoken about in the same sentence, wouldn’t have had much alignment. The idea of cross disciplines utilising skills and knowledge to create a media artwork that allows some interaction is something I believe amplifies this work.

The interaction process was something I tangled with, and also not perfected in some areas within the space when I visited, the overarching theme was clear. The proximity sensors awaited human presence, back lit with an LED light, so that the above research and groundwork could be showcased as an artwork. The closer the subject got to the oribotics, to more the robot would expand, like a blossoming flower. The colour would also correspond the movements. This simple interaction had yet another layer of complexity, with the folds in the movements of the oribotics reaching 1050 in a single contraction. The idea then in these movements, the oribotics would assume an autonomous trigger point to create a ripple effect of opening and closing for an image across interactions along the wall.

It’s interesting to see this work as technology reflective of life on earth and processes that happen in great detail and often go unnoticed. Perhaps this work explores the possible future, of where life on earth is headed. Through the use of various robotic technology was are almost able to model a DNA system with materials that are artificially created as layers in space. I particularly like the potential these Oribots have to steer the negative narratives away from robotics as a general socially constructed moral panic. These small little flower like devices have a living organism feel to them, and could pave the way into how we think of life with robotics as apart of our everyday life to interact with in daily life. Moving away from the stereotype of ‘robots taking over the world’, these Oribotics are dependant organisms, for those who don’t like the idea of rushing into autonomy, these have some basic autonomous controls, however are programmed by us. Instead of creating devices and robots modelled on the human species and making them look as close to us as possible, Matthew Gardiner has developed the flora equivalent. I believe this could invite a positive attitude from those whom believe artificial intelligence has negative impacts on society. If we created robotics with the attention to detail that Matthew Gardiner showcases with ‘The Future Unfolds”, perhaps the plantation thats been irreversibly damaged could be focused on and instead of remaining bare, we could replace with these ideas of blossoming devices. Perhaps deforestation effects could be replaced by larger scaled oribots that encompass the nature of the plantation affected. Tall blossoming trees, that whilst don’t offer the natural purification elements, would look aesthetically more appealing.


M Gardiner, 2010, Oribotics [the future unfolds], Vimeo, online video, Novemeber 2nd, viewed 26th April 2017, <https://vimeo.com/16429167>

Orobotics, Matthew Gardiner, Oribotics.net, viewed 27th April 2017, <http://www.oribotics.net/>

Arts Electronica, 2010, Artist in Residence: Matthew Gardiner – The Future Unfolds, Repair, 2.9. – 7.9., viewed 27th April 2017, <https://www.aec.at/repair/2010/07/15/artist-in-residence-matthew-gardiner-the-future-unfolds/>

Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, 2017, Out of Hand: Materialising the Digital, MAAS, viewed 28th April 2017, <https://maas.museum/event/out-of-hand-materialising-the-digital/>

M Gardiner, 2012, The functional aesthetic of folding, self similar interactions, ResearchGate, viewed 30th April 2017, <https://www.researchgate.net/figure/221308482_fig1_Figure-1-Oribotics-the-future-unfolds-installation-in-Melbourne-Australia-2010>



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