Introduction: Readymake: Duchamp Chess Pieces (3D Recreations From Photographs)

About: Scott Kildall is an new media artist and researcher. He works at Autodesk, Pier 9 and is an artist-in-residence with the SETI Institute

"Readymake: Duchamp Chess Pieces" recreates Marcel Duchamp’s hand-carved wooden chess set.

Scott Kildall (me) and Bryan Cera created this project and call this process a Readymake — a play on Duchamp’s Readymade — one that recreates objects that exist only in documentation and transforms them into 3D-printable forms that anyone with access to a 3D printer can print.

This Instructable is an unusual one, in that it details a "conceptual" art project and will show you our thinking behind this piece and what went into making these unique chess pieces.

Step 1: Introduction to Marcel Duchamp

You can read the Marcel Duchamp Wikipedia Page, where he is thought of as one of he founding fathers of conceptual art. I'll give you my own summary.

Duchamp brought his wit and humor to the art world. A skilled painter, he made a name for himself with some of his early paintings such as Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2. By 1912, he had given up on the art world and working with traditional forms of painting and began studying physics and mathematics. With the onset of World War I, he was deemed physically unfit for duty as a soldier. In 1915, emigrated to America, where he was received as an sort of early 20th century art star.

Amongst his many contributions to the art world was the concept of the Readymade, which were ordinary manufactured objects that the artist (Duchamp) selected for display. In an era where art was judged on its aesthetically-pleasing visual qualities, these objects which included items such as a bottle rack, mounted bicycle wheel and urinal provided an alternate form of art where ideas took precedence over the visual. The readymades provided an antidote to artistic academies, which organized official exhibitions called "salons" — where the gatekeepers of art were by stodgy institutions.

In short, Duchamp suggested that "art" was simply whatever appeared in an art museum, gallery or other venue for showing art. This is where the story of The Fountain — a practical joke with serious intent — emerges. In 1917, Duchamp was on the board of the Society of Independent Artists, which produced a show, which included artwork by anyone, for a fee of $1 for membership and $5 annual dues.

He anonymously submitted a factory-produced urinal, tilted at a 90-degree angle, which was not only way out of the realm of painterly works, but confounded the jury. It was rejected by the board, thereby proving that the art show was not "democratic" as the organization suggested. This press was in an uproar. It was signed (as "R. Mutt") and dated like a work of art. But was it a work of art? If not, why not? If so, how it could it be?

Duchamp also was an avid chess player and gave up art-making to play chess, where he achieved the rank of Master for the French national team. Despite his contributions to the art world, chess was arguably his trie passion.

He also cross-dressed! As a woman he took on the name Rrose Sélavy, a play on the French phrase, Eros, c'est la vie*. (photograph by Man Ray). Lewis Hyde in his book "Trickster Makes This World" suggests that the trickster figure, which appears in many cultures such as Hermes, Loki and The Coyote also often transgresses gender lines. Duchamp is no exception.

The story is that Marcel Duchamp died laughing, This happened early in the morning of October 2nd 1968, while laughing at a passage in a book by Alphonse Allais, a comic writer of the Belle Epoque. At the age of 81, he just keeled over.

* On the surface, this could mean 'sex is all there is to life' but a deeper meaning would be 'creative expression is all there is to life'.

Step 2: Inspiration: From an Online Chess Game

In 2010, I was awarded a commission by, an amazing organization that supports networked performance art to make an online chess game that plays chess as if it were Marcel Duchamp.

The idea was to work with the records of his Marcel Duchamp's chess matches — all 72 of them — and with this, I reprogrammed an open source chess engine to play chess. You can play Duchamp here:

The background story: During my childhood, I was a chess whiz and spent many hours playing against a primitive chess computer my father bought me. I reveled in the infinite possibilities on such a small board. When playing firends, I learned about imagination and deception: how to set traps, feign weaknesses and when to attack. After university, I became a computer programmer and in later years, I transitioned into the contemporary artworld as a new media artist. Fascinated by paradigm shifts such as those created by Duchamp, I wanted honor his legacy as a both an artist and chess player -- the two are inseparable. Combining my early love of chess with my algorithmic skills and a current passion for creating conceptual media artwork, this piece serves this purpose.

Step 3: Developing the Concept

This may at first glance seem like heady art-speak, but if you've gotten this far, you can see the amount of thought that's gone into this project.

I approached Bryan with the idea of making 3D models of the chess pieces that were "lost in time", ones from this B&W photograph.

We worked on this text and thought out what the project means before diving deep into the 3D printing process.

Full Project Description
Readymake: Duchamp Chess Set is a 3D-printed chess set generated from an archival photograph of Marcel Duchamp’s own custom and hand-carved game. His original physical set no longer exists. We have resurrected the lost artifact by digitally recreating it.

Inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s readymade — an ordinary manufactured object that the artist selected and modified for exhibition — the readymake brings the concept of the appropriated object to the realm of the internet, exploring the web’s potential to re-frame information and data, and their reciprocal relationships to matter and ideas.

Readymakes transform photographs of objects lost in time into shared 3D digital spaces to provide new forms and meanings. While 3D digital models are a relatively new commodity, the possibilities for digital fabrication have been rapidly proliferating. Digital relics in the form of images and archival photographs are abundant, and offer a means to rework the value of the art object, making them a perfect starting point for this experiment.

Most importantly, a readymake does not exist solely as a virtual object. Every readymake that is downloaded and produced will see subtle inconsistencies in computer numerical controlled manufacturing – along with the varying 3D printing technologies, variants of specific printer designs, and unique combinations of software and hardware commonly used in ubiquitous DIY digital fabrication systems – always yielding unique results.

Duchamp said in the 1960s, about his readymade creations, “I’m not at all sure that the concept of the readymade isn’t the most important single idea to come out of my work.” Today, in an age of digital fabrication and open source design, the boundaries between concept and object continue to blur. We invite other thinkers and makers to join our exploration of conceptual-material formations — to discover and create with our readymakes, and contribute their own.

Step 4: Tracing Over the Original Photograph

Bryan did the heavy lifting, while Scott did the 3D printing testing.

Bryan began the recreation of each piece by extracting a two-dimensional drawing directly from the archival photograph. The next step was to pull the drawings into three dimensions via a handful of CAD processes. Many of the pieces, like the queen pictured above, were given depth by a simple revolved extrude.

Step 5: Clefting the King's Crown

Other pieces required a few extra steps. Here Bryan recreates the king's "crown" with a series of extrudes and cuts, using geometry again pulled from the photograph.

Step 6: Creating the Knight

The knight was by far the most challenging piece to model - both because of its complex curves and details - but also because much of the form was left to the assumptions due to the profile view in the photograph. Bryan began this drawing a bit differently - starting this time with a drawing of the knight's basic curves.

After fleshing out the basic form of the knight via a series of lofted and swept extrusions, He began to add details

Because of the grain of the photo, the relatively low-resolution of my digital copy, and the lighting the photographer used to document the original set, much of the finer details in the knights face were left to his imagination.

Step 7: Test Prints

With the knight modeled, the digital set was complete and ready for the first round of test-prints.

I am currently an artist-in-residence at Autodesk's Instructables and tested the Duchamp pieces on their high-end Objet series printers.

We went back and forth for awhile on the 3D design, mostly bulking up the bases and used these two pieces: the queen and the bishop as test pieces.

I ended up selected the VeroWhite and VeroBlack and the playable set. The VeroClear ends up having the best quality for aesthetic purposes.

Step 8: Lasercut and Glue Felt

To protect the chess board and other surfaces from scratching, I laser-cut these felt squares, then glued them on the bottoms of each piece. White glue seems to do the trick nicely.

Step 9: Done!

I hope this was helpful!

Scott Kildall
For more information on my work, you can finde me here:

or on Twitter @kildall