This piece by Philip Kennicott was published August 15 2012 here.
[read the whole text by clicking the link above – the part about Craig is here]: But what if such things fell into the hands of bad people? The answer to that is addressed in fascinating, elliptical ways by the most conceptually complicated project on display, “FireSale©TM,” by Colin Beatty and Craig Smith, who operate as the collective SmithBeatty. The project involves purchasing a gun, disassembling it and mailing its pieces to “33 stakeholders, including museum directors, art curators, artists, university professors, lawyers and a weapons manufacturer president.” The pieces are defined as shares in a corporation and beautifully packaged into sturdy cases. Recipients aren’t asked whether they want to participate, and when the collective issues a call on the shares — the gun pieces — the participants can ignore the whole thing or return the gun parts as asked, which are then reassembled.
The inevitable “missing” pieces are manufactured using a 3-D printer, a powerful technology that may at some point allow almost anything to be reproduced at home using digital design files readily found on the Internet. In the case of “FireSale©TM” — which includes extensive and beautifully rendered documentation of the project, a blog on which participants record their reactions, and the gun pieces (or their 3-D printer substitutes) — the missing gun elements, made from a fragile white plastic compound, are not functional.
But with apparently credible reports that 3-D hobbyists have managed to use more sophisticated iterations of the technology to create the essential operating element of an M16 — heralded by some observers as “the end of gun control” — the dark side of SmithBeatty’s work is obvious. If you have the right specifications, at some point you could “print” yourself enough firepower to topple governments. Perhaps.
The positive, practical elements of this technology are obvious: Surgical tools could be available in remote locations; easily acquired replacement parts might put an end to landfills stuffed with barely broken toasters. But there’s a deeper utopian element in how SmithBeatty conceived its game. By structuring the project as a corporation, the duo demonstrates how the complexity of human interaction may be the greatest brake on our collective suicide. The busy executive who tosses out his piece of this gun effectively stops the reassembly. Only complete participation — almost impossible to get in any project — can yield a functioning gun. At least for now, but perhaps not for long if 3-D technology is sufficiently advanced.
If nothing else, “FireSale©TM” makes us aware of how we are invested, wittingly or not, willingly or not, in our collective destiny. Technology drives us forward in a magnificent spectacle of human accomplishment, yet it propels us toward ever-more apocalyptic possibilities. The artist’s role — one role, at least — is to warn us about these dark possibilities, before Rubicons are breached that can never be uncrossed. If you don’t like a world filled with guns bought at gun shows, over the Internet or at mom-and-pop corner shops, imagine a world — what is being called the “Thingiverse” — in which almost anything can be replicated by anyone, anywhere. We will have democratized our world all the way back to Thomas Hobbes’s jungle of violence and despair.
And so technology, progress and enlightenment make and undo us. Rousseau has been warning us about the dangers since his 1750 “Discourse on the Sciences and Arts.” Then, as now, it’s tempting to retreat into a shell, to focus on the self and feeling and the near-at-hand world, and hope the rest of this vast system takes care of itself. It won’t, of course, which is why we need exhibitions such as “Manifest: Armed.”
Manifest: Armed [was] at the Corcoran’s Gallery 31 space through Sept. 2. Call 202-639-1700 or visitwww.corcoran.org.
What other CCS graduates have been up to is here