As more people gain access to 3D printing, some will print objects for the benefit of humanity while others will find it difficult to resist the urge to stir up controversy and manufacture things that are NSFW. The most notorious example is the 3D printed gun, which caused an immediate debate when it was first unveiled in 2013.

Based on that uproar, one could assume the biggest impact the 3D printed gun had on society was an increase in online traffic caused by forum chatter over what should or shouldn't be printed (i.e. weapons, human cells, copyrightable things, etc…). But with this rising digital conversation there is a counter reaction where artists are using 3D printing to inspire a more peaceful dialog.

Sean Hottois utilizes 3D printing to create interactive sculptures that investigate the psychology of real-world social spaces. One of the more interesting artistic responses can be found in the work of Hottois' triptych entitled "8-Bit Buddies".

The "8-Bit Buddies" triptych consists of three independent, interactive sculptures: "This is Not a Gun", "The 8-bit Ascendant", and "AgoraProbe". Each sculpture combines 3D printing with light emitting diodes, Arduino, piezo speakers, micro controllers, prototyping board, fiberglass rods and various electronic components. The sculptures invite viewer participation with a beguiling array of flashing LED lights.

"AgoraProbe" attracts attention with its intriguing lattice of LEDs that crown a thin fiberglass rod. Protruding from the lattice's 3D printed base in four cardinal directions are motion detecting cameras that cause the LEDs to spastically chatter as they flash on and off. Hottois' hope is to produce a sense of unease, and maybe confusion, as perplexed onlookers try to decipher the smattering of blips and beeps.

"The 8-bit Ascendant" is similar to "AgoraProbe" but this time the lights are arranged in a vertical line. Once again the LEDs reacts to the viewer with a cryptic display of light and sound.

Of the three works, "Not a Gun" is Hottois' loose response to the 3d printed gun controversy. Rather than use an iconic symbol associated with violence (the gun) to gain his audience, Hottois uses an iconic symbol associated with peace (the flower) to create a conversation between the viewer and the LEDs. "Not a Gun" is a daisy with 3d printed petals emanating from an Arduino unit that is covered with a circular LED array. Standing in front of the printed flower causes the red LEDs to glow frantically as the sculpture produces sound. The speed of the light pattern and the intensity of the sound changes in response to the distance of the approaching viewer.

In terms of creating a discourse on the potential uses of 3D printing, Sean Hottois grabs our attention by not using 3D printing to create something controversial, rather he uses 3D printing as a complementary means to enhance his artistic message. Of course any of these works could be accomplished with other methods of fabrication, but the addition of 3D printed elements adds to an already established organic sensibility. The "8-bit Buddies" sprout forth like bamboo, making the addition of 3D printed parts a natural complement to the buzzing electronics. The thin fragile bits, and purposely 3D printed enclosures, convey the notion that "This is Not a Gun", "The 8-bit Ascendant", and "AgoraProbe" were grown naturally rather than digitally constructed.

Sean Hottois' submission for ArtPrize 2014 from Sean Hottois on Vimeo.