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Ordered to Cease & Desist, Designers Return with 2nd Set of Duchamp-Inspired 3D Printed Chess Pieces

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Barbican salutes Marcel Duchamp, man who transformed 20th century art

3D printing seems to be the catalyst for a new world of creativity and innovation, perhaps infinite. Designers wow us at every turn it seems, with intricately fabricated 3D models. And while the gaming industry is one that walks hand in hand with 3D printing these days, the world of the traditional games–and one of the most ancient–has not been forgotten; in fact, we’ve seen numerous 3D printed chess sets. What is new and different, however, is a battle being fought not by rooks and royalty but lawyers and artists.

How would Marcel Duchamp feel about his own art being thrust in the middle of an intellectual property debate? This topic was explored recently by Ben Valentine, as he looked at the two sides of the coin when 3D printing artists Scott Kildall and Bryan Cera got into a little hot water over a project called ‘Readymake: Duchamp Chess Pieces.’ The set was a beautifully crafted and 3D printed remake of a chess set by Duchamp.

Known as the provocative Dada artist who questioned art itself and ironically caused plenty of controversy with his paintings as well as his conceptual art featuring objects, Duchamp was also passionate about playing chess, thus the inspiration for all of the works in question.

yellowThe Duchamp estate lashed out immediately with a cease and desist letter regarding the 3D printed chess set which was already available on Thingiverse and being downloaded for free by anyone interested in 3D printing it. Kildall and Cera–not in the market for an attorney, unfathomable fees, or a legal battle at all–immediately removed the chess set from Thingiverse and worked to eliminate all traces of the project.

“Having a threatened lawsuit is never a good thing, even for someone with my personality, who revels in conversation and enjoys art as public discourse. The artwork then becomes about the legal conflict rather than the original gesture,” Kildall told Valentine in a recent Q&A regarding the controversy.

“The view that my colleagues hold is that Duchamp would have approved of this resurrection of his chess pieces, and I agree with this interpretation. So, I felt both angry and sad about it — and more sad than angry. Our original project was intended to celebrate his work and help present Duchamp’s work to the maker community, which is often seen as separate from the art world, through the resurrection of his ‘lost’ chess pieces.”

While they backed down with the original project, the duo has released a new set, quite similar to the last–but with each chess piece bearing a mustache. While the craftsmanship of the pieces is admirable, still, and the clever but rebellious humor is appreciated, some may question the persistence of Kildall and Cera in turning directly around and producing another set, which could be perceived as flagrant taunting.unnamed-e1441142865682 (1)

It’s important to understand though, that the original 3D printed chess set was not just a random choice for a design to create and put out in the public eye. It was a thoughtful piece of work as Kildall, also an artist and a passionate chess player, showed homage to an artist he truly connects with and has something in common with.

“I became fascinated with Duchamp’s fascination with chess,” Kildall told Valentine. “When I discovered photographs of these pieces, I wanted to see them in physical form. They looked like beautiful objects.”

With the second project, ‘Chess with Mustaches,’ the designers hope to be on more solid ground as they are not distributing the files on Thingiverse like last time, and they hope to be covered under the legal precedents for parodies which, according to Kildall, tend to offer greater protection. Both designers explained to Valentine that they see this as a story that needs to be told overall, and it would seem that they hope with this second release that they have reached a compromise of sorts.

“What I’m hoping is that people will generate a conversation around this artwork in light of the larger conversation around copyright,” said Kildall to Valentine. “Some might see the Duchamp Estate as the villain in this case, but the middle road would be a conversation about how to protect and honor the legacy of Duchamp, while still embracing the remix culture of the internet.”

chess mustachesSurely Duchamp would have appreciated the question and an ensuing conversation, while we can’t know what he would think about his work as quite obvious inspiration here. Considering he was an artist who took other objects and used them in his work, certainly it’s interesting to imagine what he would think of the situation from both sides.

And after all, the mustaches? Another homage to Duchamp, who famously put a mustache on the Mona Lisa in his own artistic edginess.

As it stands, the question of copyrighting and intellectual property concerns have been cropping up more and more in the industry of 3D printing–and it is not only an ongoing ‘conversation,’ but an area that will continue to evolve as legal precedents like this one are set. We’ve covered the topic numerous times, in terms of what those in the 3D printing industry are doing to create a licensing structure and protect everyone in the 3D printing community as well as controversial issues that have come up regarding artists reproducing works, as in one case regarding Michelangelo statues.

Have you been following the story of the first 3D printed chess set? What are your thoughts on the cease and desist letter, as well as the second release of the project? Have you had copyright or infringement issues with any of your own work that had to be dealt with? This is an interesting discussion and we’d like to know what you think. Share with us in the 3D Printed Chess Pieces forum over at

[SOURCE: Hyperallergic]

The first project by Scott Kildall and Bryan Cera, “Readymake: Duchamp Chess Pieces” (2014)


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