Objects and things you can touch with your hands are transitioning to information. The digitisation of material things is the promise of 3D printing – a promise that has lead everyone to presume that the manufacturing industry is on red alert for 'disruption'. And bespoke 3D print objects (or 'physibles') appear just around the corner - Dazed's Autodesk series demonstrates how easily physical objects can be converted into a manipulable digital file, and that's but one app.
But we're not at the free exchange of content that typified Napster at its height. The online portals where enthusiast "fabbers" congregate to share their designs have already begun to police what can be 3D printed: no guns, no copyrighted objects.
Matthew Plummer Fernandez holds the honour of firing the first shot at those who would seek to control what files can and can't be shared. His free software, Disarming Corruptor, is what he terms "circumvention software". It scrambles a 3D printed file, encrypting it in such a way that the user will be greeted with a glitched-out visual treat if it is loaded into any 3D editing software. If you've got the decryption keys, you get to see the object's true form. It's hiding in plain sight, thumbing its pixel-bled nose at the Mary Whitehouses of physible culture.
“Simply glitching something has become meaningless, and I can’t let it develop into the bland aesthetic of blankets and pillows"
DD: Disarming Corruptor reminds us of steganography, where hidden messages are hidden in images.
Matthew Plummer Fernandez: It's somewhere between that and encryption. It requires a key to make a hidden file visible, but it's hidden as its native file-type, so it doesn’t flag up a noticeable change of file either. I also made decisions based on aesthetics and my previous work: I like making glitchy 3D objects, but it was time for me to find more depth in that approach to making work. Simply glitching something has become meaningless, and I can’t let it develop into the bland aesthetic of blankets and pillows.
DD: Disarming Corruptor could be used to circumvent contraband, copyright, patents or censorship. Is there any particular one which you feel is ripe for circumvention?
Matthew Plummer Fernandez: I personally would like to see developments in the circumvention of censorship, and copyright and patents. Censorship really damages the integrity of an open internet, it ruins everything. Copyright and patents are about protecting profits, not about furthering culture, sharing knowledge, or progressing ideas. I feel patenting physical objects prevents involvement from being spread evenly across a society: instead it separates a society into a minority of patent holders and a majority of consumers.
DD: You state in your mission statement that “by permitting the censoring of these files we are also permitting the censoring of our built environment.” Is our offline environment really at risk?
Matthew Plummer Fernandez: I grew up in Colombia. The built environment was abound with informal architecture, black-market shopping centres, and fake Nike trainers, it seemed to function without heavy-handed state control, surveillance and copyright laws. It was culturally diverse and entertaining, especially for my teenage self that enjoyed buying cheap, pirated, glitchy console games.
“I’m not a gun freak, but I can see how even a gun censorship could become problematic"
I believe there is still a degree of freedom to do as you wish in the physical domain, and a sense of privacy and trust within the people around you, but on the Internet my actions are recorded and bound to a privatised digital service with unfamiliar terms and conditions. There is no public space. I’d hate to see that increasingly permeate into physical culture.
DD: Critics of Disarming Corruptor argue that it might enable gun printing. Do you think it's easy to neglect less easily noticeable consequences of censorship, because 3D printing has immediately-understood repercussions in the physical world like these?
Matthew Plummer Fernandez: Yes, 3D printing has the burden of being transferable into the physical world and gets the limelight for being the harmful digital medium of the future. Sadly that gives consent to censorship and control. I’m not a gun freak, but I can see how even a gun censorship could become problematic. I may need to 3D print a flare gun from my desert island emergency-kit 3D printer, and that cheap, open-source flare gun could have been a spin-off of the much feared liberator gun.