LA based artist Nova Jiang, born in China and raised in New Zealand, has been creating participatory art for the last eight years. Running through her art is the creation of relationship between people, as a part of the process of interacting with her work. In 2008 she displayed a figurative drawing device in which a person’s silhouette, as projected on a wall, could be traced in miniature on a sheet of paper – a sort of reverse 3D scanning process. Recently, she has been working to capture a few of the variants of chess strategy games. She has made eight so far, and is providing a way for people to sit and interact with these games during their display at Enjoy Public Art Gallery in New Zealand.
Chess pieces provide the perfect small-scale 3D printing project. Since the invention of 3D printing, thousands of pieces have been created in this way.
So, why talk about another 3D printed chess set?
Because in this case, it’s not the chess set that is the focus of production, but rather the variations in the game itself. Western chess is actually just one variant of a game whose family tree includes the much older games of chaturanga (Indian), shatranj (Indian and Persian), xiangqi (Chinese), and shogi (Japanese), as a few examples. There are at least 2,000 variations of the game that have been recorded. The variations range from minor differences in the starting positions of the pieces, to unique boards and unusual rules. While Jiang has not expressed an intention to create pieces for all of those variations, it is a project within the realm of the possible because of the quick design and production turnaround made possible through 3D printing.
The reference to the more modern, Western version, Chess, while the others, despite being older, are called Chess Variants, points to a common semantic problem by which things created outside of the West are referred to only in relation to their Western counterparts. The same critique that is leveled at the term ‘Non-Western’ can be applied in this case as, historically speaking; modern Western chess is actually simply another variant.
Jiang doesn’t hit you over the head with that aspect of these games in her exhibit, titled Orthogonal/Diagonal. Instead, it is simply woven into the atmosphere. What takes center stage is the exploration of the pieces in the context of differing rules and strategies, provided the conceptual direction of the pieces. The ‘standard’ chess set most commonly used in Western Chess is the Staunton design, but an examination of its pieces hold few clues about the rules or strategies required to play. There really isn’t anything about a horse figure that indicates two up and one over (or vice versa), any more than it indicates that you should slide it diagonally across the board. Jiang noted that while the pieces didn’t make it possible to play the game without having independent instructions in the rules, they did serve as memory aids once the rules had been reviewed.
Through her pieces she has shown the way in which 3D printing opens up opportunities to produce for the variant (thereby eliminating its existence as deviation) rather than requiring the variant to make do with the objects of mass production. Rather than simply playing a variation of chess with the same pieces, Jiang has both decolonized the chessboard and contributed to a valuable line of inquiry in 3D design.
Its form follows function, but without subsuming the complexity of culture to a universal ideal…or the condescending attitude. Take a look as some more images of the different variants below.
Discuss in the Jiang 3D Printed Chess Set forum thread on 3DPB.com
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