Bringing the future to the present

“This chair was not constructed. It was printed.” This is one of the very catchy signs accompanying an exhibition on the -1 basement level of the Onassis Cultural Center in Athens, mainly because it is not an exaggeration but because it is absolutely true.

Chairs, decorative items, artificial limbs, jewelry and works of art – all created with three-dimensional printing techniques, have brought a piece of the future forward to the present.

Or maybe that’s not quite right.

“This is not science fiction. Three-dimensional printing is here and it is absolutely practical,” explained French designer Francois Brument, whom we met at the inauguration of the exhibition. “The cost of the printers and the software has dropped significantly in very short period of time and I, at least for my work, already see it as the next step.”

Brument is showing interactive works at the exhibition, pieces that allow visitors to speak or blow into a microphone, for example, and then see a model of their voice on a screen and print it.

The center has also provided a number of 3D printers where visitors can bring their own designs to fruition.

The possibilities of 3D printing are endless, with the exhibition showcasing four areas where the technology is already being widely used: design, architecture, science and the arts. From an ongoing project to print a riverside house in Amsterdam (already achieved in China) to a 3D sonogram that would allow, for example, blind mothers to feel their embryo, the exhibits, in combination with the explanatory videos, are somewhat mind-boggling for the layperson.

Meanwhile, the Parlon-Parmenidis interior architectural firm responsible for designing the exhibition space has created a homely setting rather than something futuristic, which helps visitors overcome the sense that what they’re looking at is indeed science fiction and instead see the everyday potential of the technology.

Yet even without some trepidation about where technology is taking us, the questions that arise from the exhibition are numerous and fascinating. How far will three-dimensional printing go? Will we soon be able to print things such as clothing using our home printers? If, for example, the oven knob breaks off, will we be able to print a new one just like that? And what will happen when the software is pirated and distributed free of charge?

“The purpose of the exhibition is not to provide answers, but rather to generate the kind of questions that will bring the issue to a broader audience, to the street,” said Melita Skamnaki, co-curator with Wilhelm Finger.

“We are in the midst of a technological revolution so it is better if we don’t adopt absolute opinions. It seems quite likely, however, that 3D printing will significantly blur the lines between designers and consumers and art and design,” she added.

The exhibition also includes a timeline with other technological breakthroughs, like mobile phones, accompanied by the negative comments they provoked when they were new.


Onassis Cultural Center, 107-109 Syngrou, tel 210.900.5800, The exhibition runs through January 31.