A 3D printer manufacturing a golden female sculpture.

A 3D printer manufacturing a female sculpture.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

“The medium is the message,” is a phrase coined by professor and public intellectual Marshall McLuhan. It means that the way we send or receive information is more significant than the message initially intended. Originally applied to radio, journalism, and other forms of media, perhaps this phrase also defines how art today is being transformed by technology.

Inspired by the Barbican Center’s exhibition Digital Revolution, the Smithsonian explored seven ways the relationship between art and technology is changing.

Number four on the list was a “way to make pollution beautiful.” Russian artists Dmitry Morozov created the wacky-looking device with dust- and pollution-measuring sensors and a plastic nose. The device gathered dust and pollution data, and then turned that data into colors and shapes the Smithsonian described as a “movie of pollution.”

Also showcased was Eric Standley, a Virginia Tech professor who used lasers to cut paper into snowflake-like designs. After Standley drew his complex design, he painstakingly cut out the shapes in layers until he was left with a 3D piece of art that resembled an intricate window.

London Art Collective Umbrellium also used lasers to create art. But rather than use lasers to cut paper designs, these artists manipulated lasers to make structures and drawings when people interacted with laser beams and smoke. In this way, exhibit-goers were able to create something beyond what the collective could’ve expected. The exhibit, Assemblance, has been described as having a “sand castle quality,” because one person can “wreck everything,” if he or she isn’t working with others to make something cohesive.

“Our intention here—drawing on our backgrounds in architecture and the design of networked urban infrastructure—is to explore how people relate to each other and to their surrounding environments and how they can create and collaborate on building their own environments and experiences,” said the collective in an article published in Cool Hunting.

From lasers to computer sensors, technology is being used for more than just practical purposes these days. Artists continue to use devices like 3D printers for creative projects. Would McLuhan argue that in the case of technology and art, the medium is the message?