Introduction: Material Speculation: ISIS

(This is an in-progess research and project. As I continue the development of the project, I will be completing and editing this text. You can also look for more updates on my website.)

“Material Speculation” is a digital fabrication and 3D printing project by Morehshin Allahyari that inspects Petropolitical and poetic relationships between 3D Printing, Plastic, Oil, Technocapitalism and Jihad.

The first series “Material Speculation: ISIS” is a 3D modeling and 3D printing project focused on the reconstruction of selected artifacts (statues from the Roman period city of Hatra and Assyrian artifacts from Nineveh) that were destroyed by ISIS in 2015. “Material Speculation: ISIS” creates a practical and political possibility for artifact archival, while also proposing 3D printing technology as a tool both for resistance and documentation. It gives rise to cyclical oiliness; engaging and representing a process compressed through time, resin/plastic, digital process, and crude oil. It intends to use 3D printing as a tool and process for repairing history and memory. “Material Speculation: ISIS”, goes beyond metaphoric gestures and digital and material forms of the artifacts by including a flash drive and a memory card inside the “body” of each 3D printed objects. Like Time Capsules, each object will be sealed and kept for future civilizations. The information in these flash drives includes images, maps, pdf files, and videos gathered in the last months on the artifacts and sites that were destroyed. These materials were sourced by an intense research process involving contacting different archeologists, historians, and museum staff (from British Museum to archeologists and historians in Iraq and Iran). Documentation is provided in Persian, Arabic, and English.

Step 1: Concept + Thoughts to Be Completed

Thinking about 3D printers as poetic and practical tools for digital and physical archiving and documenting has been a concept that I've been interested in for the last 3 years. In my Dark Matter series, I approached this more from a political and cultural stand point with focus on objects/things that are forbidden/unwelcome in Iran. With Material Speculation, I wanted to continue the same line of thought/ideas in addition to thinking about concepts related to Middle East, Oil, and Jihad being inspired by Reza Negarestani's Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials book. Also, in the last one year, I've been doing research and have produced a project in collaboration with artist/writer Daniel Rourke, called "The 3D Additivist Manifesro". An important aspect of our Manifesto is focused on experimental, radical, and censored notions of 3D printing. How we can and should think about them as tools for changing the biological, political, environmental, and social future of our lives. A great amount of our research in our Manifesto is concerned with the role of petropolitcs, plastic, and oil in additive manufacturing, both metaphorically and practically. In our our Manifesto, we have an "endless" list of material, objects, actions that we are calling for and that we hope artists, engineers, designers, scientists, Additivists, will submit for to be published in our 3D Additivist Cookbook next year (here is also an Instructable for running an #Additivist workshop). My Material Speculation: ISIS project could fit into some of the actions and ideas in our Manifesto but mostly the ones focused on political activism, re-building, dissemination of information as an act of resisting the "power", etc.

When I was in the middle of this research during my 4 months artist residency at Pier 9, the video of ISIS destroying artifacts at Mosul Museum and then other sites in Iraq went viral. Watching those videos was really upsetting, not from a nationalistic (Persian/Middle-Eastern) standpoint but just the very act of "Destruction", "Violence", "Wanting to ruin historical heritage as a political and religious message or display of power"; This, for me came with so many layers of personal relationships and just made so much sense to be intergraded into my research.

There is obviously a long history of destruction as a way to gain control.. as a way to create a new reality for the present and future.There is this whole thing about writing history... and especially in countries with oppressive countries, reconstructing the history (the "truth") is something that crazy amount of budgets are put into every year. For a group like ISIS, this is about all of that, but also it's about putting up a show to create fear and hatred. I mean, isn't that ridiculously insane that the first thing they do is uploading their videos on Youtube and other online platforms? Who would have thought 10 years ago that "going viral" becomes one of the most common practices and promotion methods for a group like ISIS.

Step 2: Gathering Information

One of the most challenging aspects of this project has been having access to information. I didn't realize this when I started my research, but as things moved through finding details about the artifacts became amazingly difficult. From their names in English and Arabic to learning which were copies and which were original, which were historically the most important and why, etc, etc.

During this process, I emailed more than 15 people but I would say 4 out of everyone else helped me the most in directing me to the right resources and also helping me gather the information that I will be putting inside the memory cards and flash memories. There was so much details to investigate, before even being able to do this project. As I complete this project, I will also be putting this information online.

In this process I was guided mostly by Christopher Jones (a Ph.D student in ancient Near Eastern history at Columbia University in New York), Dr Pamela Karimi (Assistant Professor of Art History at the College of Visual and Performing Arts, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, also serves on the board of the Association of Modern and Contemporary Art of the Arab World, Iran, and Turkey (AMCA) ) , Wathiq Al-Salihi (Specialises on Hatra and has many articles on the statues), and also my friend Negin.T who is a PhD student in Archaeology at Tehran University.

Step 3: Modeling + 3D Printing

At first, I thought it was possible to use software like Memento or 123D catch or Recap to create 3D models from images of the artifacts that were destroyed. I also found out that there is a project, called Project Mosul which is trying to use this process to re-construct these destroyed objects. But as I continued my research and met with different modelers and software developers/engineers, I soon realized that it will be almost impossible to re-construct most of these models from still images because there is just not enough high-quality images and documentations available from the artifacts. All of the software that use images to create 3D models only will work if one has access to 20-30 high quality images from different directions/perspectives and that's why I have doubts if the reconstruction idea from images will ever work for this specific case. This is when I moved to the 3D modeling from scratch idea.

As I mentioned, the hardest and most complicated aspect of my project has been the lack of information in general. I was amazed of how little information + images were out there (both online and offline) about these artifacts, the museum, and the sites that were destroyed. I did research in English, Persian, and Arabic for almost 2 months. Contacted so many people and resources and found very little amount of useful information. I think for me, this is the poetic and also sad notion of this project. How the destruction video went viral and was watched by so many people, but then so little resources and information is available about the artifacts and even the Mosul Museum itself ( which is the second largest museum in Iraq after the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad)...And this is why it was extremely important for me to think about ways to gather this information and save them for both the current and future civilizations. Because so much of what ISIS or extreme Islamic groups want is "Re-creating" history; is demolishing and removing the past... and I love this idea of resisting that through the use of both digital and physical forms/materials. (In the coming month, I am also going to make the STL files available to public with a series of text and writing to be disturbed online).

So a whole team of colleagues, friends, and students helped me with modeling some of these artifacts (Shane O’Shea, Sierra Dorschutz, Patrick Delory, Christian Pramuk). <Some of these are still in progress>. Then I took them through different 3D modeling/printing software, cleaning the meshes, creating memory card and flash memory "cuts/holes" inside the "body" of each piece and 3D printing them in clear material. So the idea is that you can see these digital artifacts inside the physical bodies of these 3D printed ancient objects.

Step 4: Post-Production

Here is my Instructables for polishing.

Soon I will be adding documentation for sealing the artifacts.

Step 5: What's Next?

I will be continuing more research (gathering historical information) as well as modeling and 3D printing a selected series of artifacts.

In addition, in the next edition of this project, I will be including the digital files, images, text, and the .stl/.obj files online.

3D Printing Contest

Participated in the
3D Printing Contest