Please wear gloves – a review of Adhocracy exhibition.

A Saturday morning in Hackney, A Warehouse unit with a broken roller door. That could be the start of a really bad crime thriller but fortunately for me it was a visit to a really interesting exhibition.

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After visiting the Design museum’s The future is here exhibition in the summer and working for the past few months on the 3D:Printing the future   I was  both  curious to have a look at another exhibition that explored new ways of manufacturing but  also feeling fatigued from all the stories that have been in the press and all over the internet about 3D printing covering everything from hands  to toothbrushes by way of 3D printed fabrics I was curious if the exhibition would feel a bit ‘me too’ or if there would be a genuine fresh insight into the  modern manufacturing revolution..

When I heard of the Adhocracy exhibition at Lime Wharf I was interested to find out how it would compare with both the Design museum and Science museum exhibitions.

Down a quiet side street and past a garage servicing and cleaning taxis I found the main Lime Wharf building easy enough but was directed a little further along the street to a  building along the street with a Roller shutter jammed half open. I was shown around to a side door and into the exhibition.  This was a little unfortunate as it meant that I didn’t enter at the start of the exhibition and missed the introductory text until I had been around most of the exhibits.

For an exhibition looking at industry and manufacturing the rough edges of the building and the simple build of the frames and tables that housed the exhibits worked well together. Nothing faux or pretentious,  a similar thing in traditional  art gallery or museum could come across as fake but this building looked like it could easily have been making products using conventional methods for the last fifty years.

The first of the exhibits that really caught my eye was an example of what has become one of the most well known and controversial 3D printed designs of 2013 the Defense distributed 3D printed gun. The Science Museum have had one on display since July this year, the V & A have recently put on display  the first gun designed and developed by Cody Wilson.

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Displaying  all the component parts of the gun, having it in different colours and not making any claims about the provenance of the object illustrates that anyone actually can print a 3D gun. 

I was glad that the rest of the exhibits felt less threatening and dangerous and there was some interesting and ingenious products and devices.

Straight on to what was probably my favourite item The Gloves project sensor equipped gloves for the musician Imogen heap. This clip of Imogen on BBC Science Club which was shown in the exhibit explains the gloves,what they do and how they work so well that i watched it three times. So many technologies are combined to produce something sophisticated and yet quite ‘hacky’

Moving on from the gloves I noticed Little People just like at the Science museum, there had been opportunities to be scanned using a Kinect and printed on a 3D printer.

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 Along with the gun this really proved the point that it doesn’t matter if you are a National museum in South Kensington or a new gallery in  Hackney with these open technologies the same things can be achieved.

After a further look around at a lot more of the exhibits demonstrating the open source,the innovative and the new there were three item that drew my attention as they made a counter point to the majority of exhibits.

The first one was the DRM chair.  DRM or digital rights management has existed in the digital world  for a long time as a method of attempting to prevent unauthorised copying of software, music and books.

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The DRM chair detects every time a person sits on it and will eventually self destruct.

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 The chair an art project explores the idea that  DRM that has only existed in the digital realm up till now could be applied to physical objects.  How long will this new found freedom of manufacturing last before limitations are imposed by creators, patent holders and traditional manufacturers slowly seeing their old ways of working being taken away from them?

The second object wasn’t the actual object  but one particular sentence in  the information accompanying the  Heineken Secondary use beer bottle’s  

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“The Secondary Use Experiment project ultimately proved incompatible with the company’s corporate culture”

What was it of Heinekens corporate culture that killed this project? I would love to know. Oddly I don’t remember these bottles getting a mention in the official Heineken museum that I visited at the start of the year. Maybe its something they are now a little embarrassed about.

And that brings me on to the last of the three exhibits and the title of this post.  Again not one of the actual exhibition objects but the white cotton gloves that were provided  and asked to be worn before handling the books that were on display.

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Quite oddly these  excited me more than a little.  I’m not trained in object handling at work so don’t go too close to the actual objects. So to have chance to put the gloves on and carefully turn the pages of a book felt a privilege.  

 The gloves are a reminder that sometimes objects can’t simply be replaced by downloading the data and 3D printing replacements.  They are a reminder that it is important to take care of objects, not just in museums and galleries but in our ordinary lives as well.  It might be possible to 3D print an infinite amount of different objects but are we just going to end up drowning in a sea of highly individualised, highly customised gadgets and widgets that are nothing more than  junk?

Overall I would recommend a visit to Adhocracy,  there are some innovative products and ideas on display. Alongside others that will make you reflect and think on what the changes and possibilities in future manufacturing could lead to.

The Adhocracy exhibition is on until 6th November at Lime Wharf Annex Hackney. A visit is recommended  

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