ANA: Text Information as Objects

The ANA project is an exploration into storing information, typed alphanumeric text, as physical 3D printed objects.

The foundational idea for ANA was created in 2008 by the ANA group lead, Janos Stone, while developing an interactive new media project called Mecube. Mecube meant to automatically transform a viewer’s email address into a 3D printable polygonal shape, thus creating a physical personalized “portrait of a self”. Since every email is unique – belong and associated with a specific individual, Stone argued that his artwork brought a part of the viewer’s Virtual Self out of the Virtual World and into the Actual World. Stone realized that the key to reaching across the Actual/Virtual border was the burgeoning technology of 3D printing.

After achieving successes in the development of Mecube, Stone began to think beyond working only with email address.

Stone was asked by Nathan Felde, Chair of Art and Design at Northeastern University to complete the work on Mecube and develop iterations of the concept as a visiting scholar. During discussions between Felde and Stone, the project scope was expanded to include mathematics, art/design and computer science. They felt that being multidisciplinary was crucial, as the resulting concepts and 3D printed objects could then be viewed through multiple lenses, insuring a variety of interpretations and investigations.

During the early stage of conceptual development, Sia Mohammadalipoor, a mathematics PHD candidate, approached Felde about his interest in cross-pollinating art and mathematics. Soon after, Mohammadalipoor and Stone began to discuss the characteristics of a possible algorithm.

By early 2013 a working algorithmic model was developed, the project was named ANA and the rest of the research group was assembled. In addition to Stone and Mohammadalipoor the group included, Michael Godlewski an undergraduate senior in Digital Art and Interactive Media and Stephen J Elliott, an undergraduate senior in Programming and Computer Science. At the first formal meeting Mohammadalipoor felt his colleague Hooman Javaheri, a PHD candidate in Computer Science would be an important addition.

The ANA Group’s project development parameters addressed three questions:

  1. What could (text) information look like as a physical object?
  2. Can (text) information simultaneously communicate data while containing esthetics?
  3. Was it possible to develop an easy-to-use DIY 3D design tool to inspire people to be creative and use 3D printing?

After a period of R&D and a few pivots, the ANA project concluded as an interactive website driven by an algorithmic engine that transforms typed alphanumeric text into 3D printable objects. Learn how it works by viewing the Key.

The success of ANA is leading to more complex algorithms for larger datasets. This new work points to possible discoveries in; Data Storage, Cryptography, Content Driven Object Esthetics, Alternative Communication (vision impaired, developmentally impaired, etc) to mention a few.

Stone feels that it is likely that physical reinterpretations of normally “invisible” information will reveal new and important ways of looking at the connections between our digital environment and ourselves.