Sep 9, 2015 | By Kira
Last year, US-based 3D fabrication artists Scott Kildall and Bryan Cera designed and created 3D printable chess pieces based on Marcel Duchamp’s personal, one-of-a-kind, hard-carved set. The files were uploaded to Thingiverse under the title “Readymake” to be shared, altered and printed for free, and the artists felt satisfied not only with the challenge of their 3D re-creation, but with the fact that they were following the footsteps of Duchamp’s ‘readymade’ art movement itself. Shortly thereafter, Kildall and Cera received a stern cease-and-desist from the Duchamp Estate citing copyright infringement, and were forced to scrub the internet of their work and disappear without a fight. This year, Kildall and Cera are back with a new 3D design project titled “Chess with Mustaches,” a playful, bold, and very well-thought out answer to the Duchamp Estate, which they hope will get people talking about the lines between intellectual property, artwork, and where 3D printing and Internet remixes fit into the debate.
Kildal’s creative re-interpretations of Duchamp’s work go back to 2010, when he first got the idea to re-create the chess set. While working on an open-source chess engine called Playing Duchamp, which programmed a computer to play as if it were the French master, Kildall came across old photos of his original 1917 hand-carved set. Fascinated by the aesthetic, Kildall enlisted Cera to help him re-create a 3D printable version.
“I was intrigued by the challenge of generating 3D models from an archival photograph,” said Cera. “The image we referenced for the pieces was a low resolution scan of a grainy black and white photograph. Not quite the ideal blueprint for building a detailed 3D model, but it did post a fun challenge…Each piece began as traced silhouettes from the image—then extruded into a 3D form.”
Duchamp was a French conceptual artist and master chess player, famous for his ‘readymade’ or ‘found object’ artwork. In the spirit of making art accessible, a one of Duchamp’s reigning philosophies, Kildall and Cera uploaded their CAD files to Thingiverse where anyone could download, alter, and print them for free. “The view that my colleagues hold is that Duchamp would have approved of this resurrection of his chess pieces, and I agree with this interpretation,” explained Kildall, who has received three cease-and-desists related to his artwork in the past. Indeed, one of Duchamp’s most famous works of art is the L.H.O.O.Q, in which he drew a moustache on a cheap postcard of the Mona Lisa. “Our original project was intended to celebrate his work and help present Duchamp’s work to the maker community, which is often seen as separate from the art world, through the resurrection of his ‘lost’ chess pieces.”
Duchamp's original 'appropriation art'
Despite their justification of the project, however, the Duchamp Estate was not impressed. While in the United States, copyright law covers anything made before 1923, France’s Droit D’auteur is slightly more complicated. In addition, France joined the first international treaty on Intellectual Property, the Berne Convention, nearly 30 years before the United States, meaning that as if the current legal debates surrounding copyright, derivative works, and content appropriation in the digital age weren’t complicated enough, when put on an international scale, the waters get even murkier.
Facing a devastatingly expensive lawsuit and potential exile from France, Kildall and Cera reluctantly removed their files and issued both the original CnD letter and their thought-process in a detailed piece, which you can read here. Their response is filled with disappointment, but also a respectful understanding for the estate: “Marcel Duchamp died 47 years ago,” said Kildall, “Yes, copyright claims seem anti-Duchamp, but then again he lived in a different era, before the rise of computers and cat memes on the internet.”
Thankfully, the story doesn’t end there. The duo has triumphantly (at least, for now) returned with “Chess with Mustaches,” the exact same 3D printed replica of Duchamp’s set, but with tiny mustaches added to each piece. It is both a playful reference to L.H.O.O.Q, and a clever way to avoid further legal battles. According to Kildall, they have consulted with a well-established IP lawyer who determined that since “Chess with Mustaches” is a parody (which has broad protection in France) and since they are not distributing the 3D files to be further altered or recreated, they aren’t breaking any laws.
The choice not to release the 3D files has a double logic for the artists: “We have chosen to make the new artwork just the sculptural objects (the 3D prints) themselves,” said Kildall. “The original artwork was about resurrecting Duchamp’s chess pieces such that anyone can 3D print them. But the reframed artwork is about our response to the Duchamp Estate... ‘Chess with Mustaches’ is our response, rather than one that we want to invite the general public to make.”
The Duchamp Estate has yet to comment on their latest project, however we hope that rather than try to take it down, they will use it to start a productive dialogue about copyright, creative control, and the remix culture of the internet. These are important questions for the maker community, particularly since uploader sites such as Thingiverse are ripe with ‘knock offs’ of well-known sculptures, icons and designs. Just as the music and film industries came under pressure with the advent of online file sharing, we now have to question where 3D printable files and objects fit in the tangle of copyright laws, both domestic and international. “We see our act as one that continues the legacy of Duchamp’s contribution to the art dialogue”, said Kildall and Cera. “This project invites everyone to rethink relationships between accessibility of information and intellectual property.”
Posted in 3D Printing Applications
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Dada wrote at 9/10/2015 1:57:10 PM:
I think that Duchamp would be disgusted by the Duchamp Estate's actions here.