Sofia Hallik and Darja Popolitova

Estonian Academy of Arts

With the advent of digital technologies in applied arts, where a whole pattern of manual operations can be replaced with a click of the mouse, the tactile phenomenon has not become less important. We see now how changes in the new media have entailed changes in the process of creating jewellery. In spite of the fact that we can 3D-print different raw materials, ranging from chocolate to biological material, the more digital technologies enter the lives of jewellery makers, the less room there is for the tactility that is usually associated with handwork.


Beside the usual perception of tactility as something perceptible by touch, or tangible, the tactility that is nowadays found in the practice of jewellery has its own axis of development – as regards both softwares and the use of materials and machines. There are a number of artists who have contributed to the human-software-machine relationship. To name a few: Geoffrey Mann, Tavs Jorgensen, Zachary Eastwood-Bloom. Moreover, there are papers written by artists reflecting on the use of digital technologies in their practice, such as "The Hunt for Complexity"  and "Deconstructing Digital" by Drummond Masterton, "Craft and Digital Technology" by Katie Bunnell, "Abstracting Craft: The Practiced Digital Hand" by Malcolm McCullough, or – this one is more of a coffee-table book – "Digital Crafts: Industrial Technologies for Applied Artists and Designer Makers" by Ann Marie Shillito.

If we examine the practice of digitally-manufactured jewellery from the point of view of a creator, we can point out several experiences where tactility manifests itself:

  • pre-production (screen-oriented labour, 3D modelling)
  • production (machinery production, 3D printing)
  • post-production (manual treatment of a material)


These three concepts were adopted from the practices of filmmaking, where pre-production implies the planning of the making of a film, production is the actual filming, and post-production is the processing of filmed material.


We chose the analogy of digital filmmaking as an organisational principle for the research, because tactile categories in 3D modelling, such as rough, smooth, or prickly, are achieved through visual tools. In digital filmmaking, senses are mediated by a computer: “When, given enough time and money, almost everything can be simulated in a computer, to film physical reality is just one possibility.” (Manovich 1995) In addition, we chose filmmaking because, as with cinema, there is a performative element which can be found in communicating jewellery through digital media. This connection will be explained further through the concept of Digital Self.

It is also important to say that our article does not concern itself with the post-production stage, as the last stage only involves handwork that does not correspond to the digital tactility qualities.

There has been plenty of new media, net and postinternet artists from the beginning of ‘90s up to now, who have been deconstructing and rethinking software. However, we are not going to focus on them, since the aspects of body and craftsmanship are not as essential in new-media art as in jewellery art. Jewellery is one of the most physical and material of all the art forms, but we are expanding its horizons: on the one hand, jewellery becomes similar to face-filters, a tool for customizing one’s digital identity, digital representation, and image; and on the other, jewellery is an embodiment of a new type of craft ‒ digital craft. Machine-made jewellery shows the traces of the technological path it follows, and does not limit itself by the means of material processing.

The concept that frames our understanding of jewellery is the "embodied" nature of the process and the perception of digitally-producible jewellery. The phenomenological concept of "embodied mind" from Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1999 [1945]), that has further evolved in the writings of Laura U. Marks (2014), frames the understanding of tactility and jewellery in this research.

The main focus of this article is to find answers to such questions as:

🔍 what are the tactile qualities of a digitally-produced piece of jewellery at the stages of pre-production (3D modelling) and production (3D printing)?

🔍 what role does the machine play in the jewellery production process?

Starting from previous artistic practice (exhibitions and single works by the co-authors of the article), extra-textual analysis of literature, and meetings with each other, each of the co-authors has formulated an angle from which they expands on the research problem. In the process, such data were gathered as photographs, screenshots of 3D modelling, recording of interviews, Instagram posts, or selfies. The research areas were split between the two, and were informed by artistic interests. The emphasis on software and visual-based technologies is more pronounced in Darja Popolitova’s practice (in the chapter "Pre-Production"), due to her background in jewellery making, and her experience in the digital production of jewellery. On the other hand, the emphasis on machinery production and rapid prototyping techniques is more apparent in Sofia Hallik’s practice (in the chapter “Production”). In the case of theoretical reflections, we use the pronoun "we" and the adjective "our" to refer to the collaborative nature of the writing phase. When referring to practical experiments and describing creative processes, we use "I" and "my", respectively meaning Popolitova in the chapter on pre-production and Hallik in the one on production.

During the stage of pre-production, the tactile qualities of jewellery present themselves on screen. The substance here is information, which is extracted, sorted, and outputted to the screen. In 3D modelling, the information is comprised of voxels (volume pixels), and also polygons (surface pixels). Out of the latter, a mesh (fig. 1) is made ‒ the substance from which the surface of the 3D model is generated. This information processing is different from the processing of metal, as the operations happen in a software, and not by means of tangible instruments.

There is evidence of artists from the field of craft who have been taking digital information as a material of its own. They have been deconstructing the software in order to explore the human-digital relationship. They are craftspeople such as Daniel Widrig, Tavs Jorgensen, Justin Marshall and others. The results of their projects are usually applied things like sculptures, glass bowls, jewellery and others. Their objects reach the phase of post-production ‒ they become tangible. On the contrary, examples are lacking of things that never leave the phase of pre-production, and function as digital representations. This is because the field, witnesses of which we are becoming now, is only emerging. Some names who are working in the field are Nathalie Nguyen, Ines Marzat, or Nikita Replyanski (figs. 2, 3, 5, 6). The fashion industry also adapts to the function of digital identity. In this recent phenomenon, users can buy 3D-rendered visuals and combine them with photographs of their own ‒ to wear the visuals online. (Brooke 2019) (fig. 4)

Figure 1: Visual representation of the mesh in Meshlab software; screenshot taken during the making of the “Eros Loading” series of jewellery (2017). Photo credits: Darja Popolitova.


Figure 2: Digital face-mask by Ines Mazrat. Posted on her IG on August 28th, 2018. Image credits: Ines Marzat. 

These digital craftspeople may not even come from a craft field, yet create things to be worn on a body. They distribute things in the form of digital representations to be worn on the bodies of users. You can find clothes, make-up and even shoes made with 3D software, hyper-realistically rendered, materiality that is woven out of pixels.

The concept of users’ bodies should here be defined through the Digital Self concept
‒ the persona communicated via online transactions and activity. Like self-enhancement generally, digital identity gains much of its power when there is a reason for self-esteem.
To say it differently, adorning oneself by means of and in relation to visual technologies is integrated into a wider field of immaterial and ego-boosting structures: posts, likes, comments, shares, etc. The motive may seem narcissistic, yet digital identity enables people to express themselves in an entirely new way ‒ to present the Digital Self for everyone to see, even if the self comes in a format as intangible as that of a digital image.


In fact, this intangibility could meet not only the eye, but the whole sensory apparatus as well. The viewer becomes a strange mixture of emotional and visceral response being fed to the materiality that is represented through the screen. This was explored in the concept "tactile visuality" or "haptic gaze" that was proposed by Laura U. Marks. This is defined as an attribute of the image itself, as well as the process of working with the image ‒ an interaction with the screen with a specific plasticity. Marks sets tactile visuality
in opposition to optical: "The difference between haptic and optical visuality is a matter of degree, however. [...We] need both kinds of visuality: it is hard to look closely at a lover’s skin with optical vision; it is hard to drive a car with haptic vision." (Marks 2002: p. 3)

press to play the video

Figure 3: Video by Ines Mazrat with a beauty filter made by herself, featuring user @bountyclub_.  Posted on her IG on August 28th, 2018. Video credits: Ines Marzat.

Figure 4: Johanna Jaskowska in "Iridescence" by digital fashion house The Fabricant. Image credits:

Figure 5: Digital face-mask and body adornment by Nikita Replyanski. Posted on his IG on October 11th, 2019. Image credits: Nikita Replyanski.

Figure 6: Digital nails by Nathalie Nguyen. Posted on her IG on September 17th, 2018. Image credits: Nathalie Nguyen.

We can cite an example of the "haptic gaze" in the process of 3D modelling. For instance, it occurs when the object does not fit the screen ‒ during the stage of drastic zooming
(fig. 11) or when patching up the surface of the mesh. The eyes here are like the organs of touch (metaphorically). An artist is more inclined to interact with the texture of the image than to focus on the shapes (Marks 2002: p. 3).

What considers the tactile qualities of the image is their communicative function ‒ the ability of the image to evoke an emotional response. Inspired by Marks’s writings, the haptic effect on the imagery of jewellery was explored during my exhibition "iTouch Store" in 2019
(fig. 7).

The tactile aspect at the exhibition was addressed through the real jewellery as well as its representation. The idea was to refer to the culture of commodification by exposing jewellery as products, and by showing tactile engagement with them (figs. 14 to 17). Each of the pieces was attributed magical properties/functions that were intended to solve problems associated with the digital age. For example, a tag was attached to the jewellery (figs. 8, 9, 10) that read, "It will heal you from senseless wandering and procrastination on the Internet. This synthetic brush is impregnated with smart electrolytes which free your mind from the digital rubbish seen during the day. Apply with slow movements to the face." (figs. 15, 18, 19). The way jewellery functions was represented in a video filmed in the style of a commercial (fig. 17).

Figure 7: A view of the “iTouch Store” exhibition (Tallinn, 2019), that dealt with commodification, tactility, digital imagery, and cyber shamanism. Photo credits: Darja Popolitova.

Figure 9: "Earrings for Cleaning off Fingerprints" at the iTouch Store exhibition. All pieces came with an attachment explaining how they worked. Photo credits: Darja Popolitova.

Figure 8: "Earrings for Cleaning off Fingerprints" at the iTouch Store exhibition. All pieces came with an attachment explaining how they worked. Photo credits: Darja Popolitova.

Figure 10: Detail of  a textile that is part of exhibit "Earrings for Cleaning of Fingerprints" at the iTouch Store exhibition. The napkin was attributed magical properties of cleaning click history. Photo credits: Darja Popolitova.

After the exhibition I interviewed a few people, asking them: "Which was the most tactile  part of the video, in your opinion?" After the analysis of the interview data, I have understood a few things: the emotional apparatus is addressed when watching materiality on the screen, and the visuals that represent real material are more intense in their tactile experience.

Interviewees were more inclined to operate with emotions and memory while describing the experience of watching the video (fig. 17). For example, when watching how "Silicon Nail for Touching Screen" (fig. 12 and 16) (a ring in the shape of a fingernail made out of silicon) bends against the phone screen, one of the responses was: "… it reminded me of sculpture lessons when making moulds ‒ how it is like to feel the silicon ‒ there were recordings in the brain how it might be." (Haav 2019) The emotion of pleasure was mentioned in the case of "Digital Detox Brush" (fig. 14, 18, 19), and the emotion of fear in the case of "Anti-Clicking Spike" (fig. 13 and 17). Other visuals were marked as tactile much less often, compared to these three ones.

It made me think of the experiments conducted in the field of design (Crippa, Rognoli, and Levi, 2012). Using a psychological tool called PrEmo, designed in order to assess emotions evoked by products, testees were asked to touch glass, steel, ceramic, mother of pearl, paper, wood, stone, and rubber. During the experiment, it turned out that there are emotions that are difficult to link to materials. Shame or sadness, for example. However, such emotions as disgust, fear, and desire were easier to connect with materials.

Perhaps the most striking example of the emotion-material correlation is the phenomenon of ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) videos over the Internet. These are short video-clips of hands cutting soaps, or crumpling slime or powder. The visuals are intended to bring satisfaction to viewers by calling up visceral sensations. Usually, they all depict real materials interacting with real hands. It could lead to a suggestion that the tactile degree in a 3D-modelled substance

Figure 11: Zoomed mesh in Meshmixer software. Image credits: Darja Popolitova.

Figure 13: "Anti-Clicking Spike" brooch; "iTouch Store" exhibition, 2019. 3D-printed chromed bioplastic, diamond cutter, silver, silicon wafer. Photo credits: Darja Popolitova.

Figure 12: “Silicon for Touching Screen” ring; “iTouch Store” exhibition, 2019. Silicon, silver. Photo credits: Darja Popolitova.


could also be measured by how realistic the manner of representation is, since a lot of 3D-animated materials depict materials in a hyper-realistic way. For example, if there are scratches, moisture, or shininess, then tactile perception may be more efficient.

The connections between emotions, sensations, mind, and topology of the space were explored in the phenomenological tradition. The best-known examples are Merleau-Ponty’s writings. He backtracked from the Cartesian dualism of the division of body and mind, and deduced the so-called "embodied mind" (Merleau-Ponty [1945] 1999: pp. 220, 242-243): a body which is different from the material as well as from the mental body ‒ the way people experience their own body. Someone looks at a painting in the very moment when there is a pebble in their shoe that pokes their foot, and this is a part of their experience of the painting. The emphasis on 3D modelling here is obvious: the operations are based on the slightest body movements ‒ on a look or click, and other minimal body actions. It is important in the field of craft, where it is associated with handwork. The concept of embodiement throws a different light onto digital craft. It becomes not only mental, but "embodied", sensual craft.


Perception of materiality in the form of static or moving digital images is largely about the possibilities of touch: memories of the things being touched, and emotions from previous tactile experience. Touch is seen as a mixture of topological and sensorial experience, as a realistic manner of representation, as satisfaction or disgust. There seems to be something unifying about all these different things. Moreover, this psychological diversity addresses a more global distribution of information, including distribution of performative, and visual, (digital) identities. To sum up all this heterogeneity of components, we propose the tactile quality of digital materiality ‒ psycho-performative realism, which, through a realistic manner of representing materials, brings to mind emotions and memory, and can be attributed to digital materiality that is worn online.


Figure 14: Still from “iTouch Store” video (“iTouch Store exhibition, 2019). It depicts how the “Digital Detox Brush” can be used. Image credits: Darja Popolitova. 

Figure 15: Still from "iTouch Store" video. It depicts how the napkin for "Earrings for Cleaning Off Fingerprints" can be used. Image credits: Darja Popolitova.

Figure 16:  Still from "iTouch Store" video. It depicts how the napkin for "Silicon Nail for Touching Screen" can be used. Image credits: Darja Popolitova.

the video

Figure 17: "iTouch Store" video. Team: Ando Naulainen (video), Andres Nõlvak (sound), Johanna Ruukholm (graphic design).

Figure 18: "Digital Detox Brush" neckpiece. "iTouch Store" exhibition, 2019. 3D-printed chromed bioplastic, silver, textile.
Photo credits: Darja Popolitova.

Figure 19: "Digital Detox Brush" neckpiece (detail).
"iTouch Store" exhibition, 2019. Photo credits:
Darja Popolitova.

What are the specifics of manipulating the substance presented on screen? In his book "The Language of New Media", media theorist Lev Manovich tells us about a set of skills, knowledge and structures needed for working with digital data – specifically, operations: "Operations are interesting in a way, as they represent in themselves an automated system of activities, that differs strongly from the traditional tools" (Manovich 2001: p. 118). It is possible to say that my jewellery is based on the combination of different operations. Among them: "flattening", "moving", "making solid", "robust smoothing" (fig. 24). The two series of works "Narcissus" and "Metanoia" (figs. 20 and 22) represent such operations as "smoothing" and "making solid". 

The starting point for the 3D scan is a reality that you can touch and smell ‒ the clay moulded by hand that is translated into the digital form using the technique of 3D- scanning. The technology allows you to render photos made around the scanned object into the three-dimensional file. During this process, the digital shape is not built from zero, but rather copied from reality (by means of photography), in this case with the aid of the mobile app Trnio. The resulting 3D scan usually contains a lot of errors: an uneven knobby surface and a lot of holes in the mesh are some of the most frequent defects. Moreover, the overall mesh surface is covered by irregular polygons ‒ in some places denser, in some thinner. It makes the mesh more sensitive to different operations, especially in those places where it is thinner. In order to decrease this resolution sensitivity, you need to use "smoothing" (as an option) (fig. 24).

Figure 20: "Narcissus" brooch (in Kadri Mälk’s personal collection);
vacuum formed, and chromed bioplastic, silver, steel; 2018.

When I smoothen the surface (fig. 24), when I get rid of the traces left by analog (clay),
I see how delicate the surface is. I feel some sort of cleanliness by upgrading the shape. However, an untouched, raw scanned file also has its own beauty, though its naturalness and roughness seem to be more pronounced than those of cleaned CNC-milled pieces. One of the reasons for this is that the conversion from digital to analog is sometimes tricky ‒ the result is slightly different when the 3D model meets the parameters of machinery production.

If one wishes to seek for similarities between the analog and the digital, one could be found in their sensitivity. Imagine a piece of clay. Its particles are more or less similar. However, if you are dealing with clay found on the seashore, the size of the particles varies from the size of a small rock to that of a grain of sand. The surface of a 3D model can also be non-homogeneous. It depends on the resolution ‒ in one place it can be scarce, in another thick.


Resolution is the frequency of pixels compared to the whole object. If one of the sculpting tools of Meshmixer is applied to the model, the mesh with lower resolution will react more severely to manipulation. The same thing happens with clay: an impact on its surface will affect a piece with bigger particles more than one with smaller particles. This is also true in regard to the 3D-printed model ‒ the thicker the layers of a 3D-printed object (referred to as the digital fingerprints in the production section), the easier it is to break it. This kind of mesh sensitivity we call resolution sensitivity ‒ sensitivity, which is found in the most erogenous areas of the mesh.

Figure 21: "Glitch in The Copy" project; 2016-2017. Photo credits: Annika Pettersson.

Figure 22: "Metanoia" brooch 2016; stabilized wood, silver, steel; modelled,
3D-scanned, CNC-milled. Photo credits: Darja Popolitova.

Figure 23: Unsmoothed 3D scan in Meshmixer software; 2015. Image credits: Darja Popolitova.

Figure 24: Process of smoothing in Meshmixer software. Video credits: Darja Popolitova (2019).

The body of digitally-producible jewellery can be fragile and ephemeral due to the loss and compression of the information. For example, implementing the operation "making solid" in the Meshmixer software for a number of times makes the shape more simple with each implementation. The same thing happens with a xerox copy that is xeroxed again and again ‒ it loses its quality. However, as it is known, a defect can be turned into an effect. Sometimes, for example, "artists are intentionally messing with hardware: turning the computer on and off, or plugging the "audio out" into the "video in," liberating the electrons to create random effects." (Marks 2002: p. 158) 

Laura U. Marks also stipulates that the body of a digital video is ephemeral, fragile and mortal. "Digital media are as fragile as analog, if not more. Digital video’s vulnerability is most evident in low and obsolete technologies. Consider QuickTime: a low res digital video recording suitable for real-time transmission." (Marks 2002: p. 157)


These specifics are expressed in the Annika Pettersson project "Glitch in The Copy" (fig. 24). Pettersson uses multiple 3D scans of 3D scans of a single brooch. The result of this digital trick is data’s deterioration or decay. The copies of an original made in aluminium gradually lose their contours. While watching her process, you can see the data turn thin-skinned. William Gibson, in particular, has proposed his own term for that (Marks 2002:
p. 157): "bit rot",‒ the slow deterioration of data stored on media storage, and also known by the names bit decay, data rot, data decay, and silent corruption.

press to play the video

Figure 25: Graphically-processed image of "Coincidentia Oppositorum" brooch (detail); 2018. Image credits: Darja Popolitova.

Figure 26: Graphically-processed image of the brooch from the "Metanoia" series (detail); 2018. Image credits: Darja Popolitova.

In this sense, such attributes of data as "resolution sensitivity" and "thin-skinness" are alike. The former can be the cause of the latter. In the process of intentionally letting data decay, the resolution of the mesh can turn low and react to the slightest touch of digital tools.

Thin-skinness as a distortion of data can also manifest itself in 2D. I understood the digital softness of jewellery when I started to post Photoshop-processed photographs of jewellery onto my Instagram. The photographs were added a kind of waxy or plastic surface (fig. 25), or sometimes other textural filters: deformed, misshaped, and other effects. My intention was to twist the tactility found in real jewellery materials, and to transition it into a two-dimensional, graphic dimension, when using digital media. As a result, there is an Instagram feed that features a variety of images: jewellery on white background, selfies with jewellery, selfies with 3D models (figs. 27 and 29), and graphically-processed images (figs. 25 and 26).

All this diversity includes the quality of thin-skinness of data ‒ the pliability of a digital substance. While describing my works and works by other emerging artists, curator and writer Kellie Riggs said that jewellery artists who use digital media "are mixing it [art jewellery, commercial jewellery, body, stylistic effects, and image] all up; the Internet doesn’t care about those categories anyhow" (Riggs 2019: p. 53). Visual imagery bends and curves under the eye of digital craftspeople, in order to widen the boundaries of the discipline.

Figure 27: Selfie that combines the real, CNC-milled and chromed "Drama of Two" brooch with its 3D model. The images throw a light onto the performative element of digital touch ‒ they’re selfies based on and including digital materiality. 
Image credits: Darja Popolitova (2019).

Figure 28Selfie with CNC-milled and chromed "Drama of Two" brooch.
Image credits: Darja Popolitova (2019).

Figure 29Selfie with CNC-milled and chromed "Drama of Two" brooch and its 3D model. Image credits: Darja Popolitova (2019).

Figure 30: Sofia Hallik  Tangibility Matters, 3D render of a brooch.
Photo credits: Sofia Hallik (2018)

In contemporary times, there is a mutation of some sort happening to the jewellery making process: its absorption into the digital world and its interrelation with the machine. Technological developments have given birth to a machine that is able to assist, complement, or replace a human hand. In this section I would like to focus on the tactile qualities inherent in the jewellery produced by means of 3D printing. Let us start with a question: what is the difference between handmade jewellery and jewellery produced by means of 3D printing? You may not agree with Jyrki Siukonen who focuses especially on hands, handwork, tools, and their interaction with technological development in his book “Hammer and Silence. A Short Introduction to the Philosophy of Tools”. He quotes David Pye, in The Nature and Art of Workmanship:


"The main difference between handmade crafts and machine-made work is the fact that all genuine workmanship includes a possibility of risk. […] In other words, every stage of work is open to mistakes and lapse of the worker’s concentration, but also to a rise of quality and self-demand."1


That is true – the possibility of interpretation and risk is what really opens the gates of artistic potential. But we can interpret and take risks with 3D modelling and printing as well. During "Digital Meets Handmade: Jewellery in the 21st Century" (2018), jewellery artist Annika Pettersson emphasized that when an artist gets a 3D printer in their workshop and no longer has to get that service from intermediaries, a possibility for experimenting emerges. Businesses that deal in 3D printing often refuse to do something that doesn’t follow the rules. More often than not, only safe and standard requests are accepted. An artist can achieve a very different result if they own a 3D printer. A possibility arises to experiment, to find new ways of achieving a desirable outcome.

On the one hand, it may seem that risk is only inherent in handwork. It is impossible for sculptors to revert the material to the original shape in the middle of the process and start all over again. While polishing a layer of wood, a sculptor accepts the fact that they cannot turn the wood dust into the original piece of wood. However, a false perception of the work with the machine arises, a perception that while working with 3D printing it is impossible to take a risk in order to achieve a new result. In fact, the risk is only impossible during the pre-production stage, when the author can revert to the previous state in digital space without risking losing anything. In the context of 3D modelling, we do not encounter risk, but only a possibility to experiment peacefully. The difference between risk and experiment is the fear of a mistake (or a mistake itself), as you cannot go one or two steps back to start the work anew.


If an error occurs in the process of 3D printing, there are two ways for an author to react ‒ to start the printing process from the beginning, while also removing the source of the error, or to be content with the end result, even if it does not meet expectations and the inherent defect is obvious. The situation is similar to the aforedescribed process of a sculptor’s work, which means that there is a risk involved at the stage of production, that in turn opens the gates of artistic potential. That is why Pye’s statement quoted by Siukonen, on the difference between handmade and machine-made work, does not sound convincing. In my opinion, the main difference is the absence of tactility that is inherent in handwork. But let us try to define what shape tactility takes at the stage of production, when an author encounters 3D printing and all the specifics inherent to this process.

Figure 31:  lines on the surface after 3D printing, posted by Webhaus on June 16th, 2015,

When we imagine a tool, we, above all else, think of a hammer, situated firmly in the hand of a maker and fulfilling its specific function. But in the modern context, a tool is not always something you can hold in your hand. A computer is a tool, just like a 3D printer, given that the primary function of a tool is the expansion of the author’s abilities. In the process of making jewellery with the aid of digital technologies, the physical contact between the author and the tool (and, what’s more important, between the author and the jewellery) transforms during the stages of pre-production and production. But at the same time, it does not mean that the aspect of tactility is gone.


Anthropology professor Dorinne Kondo wrote an essay – aptly titled "Polishing Your Heart: Artisans and Machines in Japan" – about the relationship between artisans and machines in the Japanese culture. The author tells about the New Year tradition of some Japanese craftsmen to make gifts for their machines, which are not seen only as tools. This tradition is determined by the belief in the existence of so-called "kami": Shinto spirits, who inhabit the living and also inanimate objects.


"There was a special spiritual presence in all of their machines. […] But it wasn’t a love of machinery as machinery, but of machinery as some kind of spiritual extension of themselves. For them, machines were extensions of themselves as spiritual beings, as creators of things, things of high quality."2

The perception of the machine not only as an instrument, but also as a creator of things and as a spiritual extension of an author, is the guiding principle that allows us to define in what exact way the machine influences the end result, while not dwelling on technical and widely discussed principles; and also makes us understand the specifics inherent to tactility at the stage of production.


First of all, the machine’s participation is not limited to the manufacturing of jewellery – it determines the possible alterations in material, texture and shape. Every printer, each given technology and printing speed, and also each material used for printing have a number of particular qualities that define a fingerprint. The same as fingerprints on clay that are left after the work behind the pottery wheel, the printer leaves its marks on the printed object, like lines on the surface ‒ the printer’s fingerprints that indicate a Digital Touch (fig. 31).


Digital Touch is an umbrella concept that defines digital materiality in a tangible world, as well as a manifestation of the power of the machine upon the work of art. A machine works fast, it has exact principles, according to which it easily eliminates mistakes made by human beings. We introduce this concept to describe the strong influence of a machine on the result of an author’s work.


In the practice of making jewellery with the help of 3D printers, I have noticed that not every type of 3D printing satisfies me – in some cases, the presence of fingerprints seems to me some kind of barrier to achieving the desired result. For example, a printed PLA (Polylactic Acid, bioplastic) object sometimes seems empty to me – it seems to be missing any information except the materiality of a digital fingerprint


Figure 32: Part of a video made for Sofia Hallik's PhD thesis, the process of creation of "Tangibility Matters" jewellery. 
Video credics: Sofia Hallik (2019)


On the other hand, a material filled with information is not always good. Peter Skubic is an Austrian jewellery artist who avoids the use of gold, since almost all gold has been melted and it can have some percentage of wedding rings and golden teeth of Jews who died during World War II.


Coming back to the neutrality of a PLA printed object, in my practice I have repeatedly tried to enrich neutral materials with information through the introduction of manual work. The stage of handwork arrives after printing with PLA – I carefully polish and change the shape manually, thus erasing the printer’s fingerprints. I believe that each manually-made detail is unique, but can we say that each printed model is unique as well? I believe it to be unique; at least I believe that I managed to make each of them unique in a particular way, not a copy and paste but a self-sufficient model.


Moreover, as exemplified by my work for the solo exhibition "Tangibility Matters" (figs. 39 and 40), that took place in Tallinn in 2018, I can assert that the 3D model and the printed object are not copies of each other. It would be a mistake to suppose that a 3D model will be realised fully in the printed form. On the one hand, we can see the compliance to the given parameters; but getting our hands on the finished product, we encounter real materials and shapes that are situated in the real world and obey its laws. For example, to look at the jewellery from all sides, you need to turn it and touch it with your fingers. A 3D model can be perceived wholly through the screen, and if the model is transparent you do not need to turn it on its axis. In this way, it would be more accurate to view a 3D model and the printed object not as each other’s copies, but as identical twins: they look very much alike, but you can still spot the differences if you look closely enough.



A further interesting aspect that I came across is that a 3D model which one sees on a display allows viewers to see each detail from any possible perspective. One can zoom in on it, turn it, give it any texture – but after printing, the model obtains new features. It seems that, in a way, a shape transforms while it is being transferred from digital to physical space, it obtains some qualities of which you are not aware while it is in a digital space. Can we assume that these new qualities that a 3D model appears to have are determined by Digital Touch, such as texture and the fingerprints left by the machine?


The tactile qualities of the printed object differ from its tactile qualities in the digital space. If in the latter the author has a possibility to manipulate the shape, the texture and the size of an object, and always has a chance to revert back to the original configuration, in the process of production we encounter linearity. This means that the process of 3D printing is not reversible ‒ every new layer is printed over the previous one and becomes the basis for the next step in the process of the creation of the object by the machine. This process goes accordingly to the programmed plan and flexibility isn’t inherent to it, as it is to the pre-production phase. It is only possible to achieve some results with the implementation of 3D printing technology into the process of creating jewellery – alterations in the material, texture and shape (as we call it, the digital fingerprint) are dictated by the machine, as well as the new features of a 3D model obtained after printing. This in turn turns a machine into a creator of things and into an extension of an author.

Figure 33Sofia Hallik, “Tangibility Matters” exhibition, 3D rendering of a brooch. Photo credits: 3D modeler Oskar Narusberk.


Figure 34Sofia Hallik, “Tangibility Matters” exhibition, 3D rendering of a brooch. Photo credits: 3D modeler Oskar Narusberk.


Figure 35Mathieu Schmitt – Glitched #3 and #4, 2013.
Photo credits: Mathieu Schmitt.



Glitch art – the practice of using digital or analogue errors for aesthetic purposes by either corrupting digital data or physically manipulating electronic devices – is maybe the most striking example of Digital Touch, as it affords an opportunity for the machine to add its specific touch to the process of creating a work of art. For example, in 2013 the French artist Mathieu Schmitt created a series of 3D printed dioramas, for which he purposefully used a glitch in the file to accomplish trippy, slightly distorted settings (fig. 35). At first sight, there appear to be no departures from normal in his “Glitched” series, but if you look closely you can notice the anomalies extrinsic to the human experience. For example, in the image on the left you can see that the corner of the bench took on a very unexpected form, as if the armrest was somehow stretched, and in the image on the right one car is not parked exactly right, as if the driver got the axes y and z mixed up. While in this case the author created the glitch purposefully, the machine can create new forms and new aesthetics that reflect the nature of Digital Touch.


But what if a mistake is not desired? Indeed, sometimes as an author I try to achieve a certain result, and I do not expect/accept any deviations from the norm. Refusing any unexpected consequences of an error, I try to figure out how to fix it, and then I start printing again, hoping that this time everything will be as expected. In my practice, most often this is exactly what I do. I do not accept the correction on the side of the machine, and thus I refuse to cooperate. It turns out that there is no union between me and the machine. Anxiously trying to find a balance between the machine and the author, I often forget the rules of the game – in order to allow the machine to become my partner, I must first learn to accept it and the errors it produces.

Figure 36Adam Grinovich, CylinderBox pendant, 2016. Materials: 3D-printed stainless steel, cubic zirconia, thread.


Figure 37Sofia Hallik, 3D-printed support structure. Material: SLA resin.


A further distinct quality of a 3D printed object is its unfinishedness. In comparison to the digital image in pre-production, the printed form very often demands additional manipulations. For example, it is assumed that a printed model is in need of cleaning from support material. If you use SLA resin for printing, the software can create supporting structures for your model that will be printed from the same material (fig. 38).


Jewellery artist Adam Grinovich demonstrates that support structures can be part of a finished form (fig. 36). Look into the flawlessly even vertical lines, that in theory are just the support structure that allows to print the shape of the jewellery in high quality. You can see in the lower part of the ring that the artist removed the structure carelessly, leaving the marks for everyone to see, this way demonstrating the symbiosis of the artist’s work with the printer. In the given work, we see again the machine as a creator of things and as a spiritual extension of an author. Adam Grinovich deliberately leaves the vertical lines in plain sight of the viewer. In doing so, he offers us an opportunity to relish in the aesthetics of Digital Touch. In the production process, the 3D printer leaves its marks on the surface of the jewellery. Adam Grinovich creates the given object as though in collaboration with the printer, not being ashamed of its presence and not erasing the tactile qualities of digital production from the surface.


It is worth noting that the support material is created automatically by the software used for the preparation of a 3D model for printing. This stage is a part of production, as it is connected directly to 3D printing and the printer. Using the PreForm software that works in connection with the Formlabs printers, I did not, for a long time, pay attention to the support material. Usually, I cleaned the 3D shape from the support material and got rid of anything excessive. I did not reflect on the fact that the given structure is created automatically without any  outside intervention. Later, I discovered that the structure of the

support material could be as interesting as the printed model. The moment depicted in figure 37 is the moment when I got interested in the support structure for the first time. This shape reminds us of some futuristic snowflake. It is possible that support structures can be not only a part of a finished form, but also a fully realized and independent form. Thus, we are back to the perception of the machine not only as a tool, but as a creator of things. 


First and foremost, it is worth paying attention to the tactile qualities of Digital Touch at the stage of production, such as a 3D printer’s fingerprints, that can vary depending on the model of the printer and the printing technology used ‒ SLS, SLA, DOD, FDM, etc. By the term fingerprints, I mean the marks indicative of 3D printing, caused by the successive layering/solidification of the material during the working process. The aesthetics of such tactility are not inherent to the natural processes, which in turn personify the technological progress.

Figure 38: support structures. Photo credits: Formlabs Inc.


Figure 39Sofia Hallik, “Tangibility Matters” exhibition. Brooch: 2017. 3D-printed resin, silver, pigment, tektite, steel pins. 


Figure 40Sofia Hallik, “Tangibility Matters” exhibition. Object: 2018. 3D-printed resin, silver, pigment.


Alongside the fingerprints, there arises the issue of the unfinishedness of 3D printing. As it was mentioned, unfinishedness here implies the fact that the printed shape (usually, but not always) demands additional mechanical treatment, as it is necessary to remove the support material. Unfinishedness is not always a flaw, but can be seen as a benefit. Moreover, if we examine the support structures as a self-sufficient form, then in the future it would be interesting to analyze what the limits are of the support structure that is created automatically by the software.


Another tactile quality is a glitch or an error in the process of 3D printing. It is not important whether a glitch is implemented purposefully or it is just an error in the program settings. The most interesting fact is that it allows the machine to participate in the work process, givingit an opportunity to change the programmed course of events, which fully represents the notion of Digital Touch.


The aforementioned tactile qualities allow us to collaborate with the machine not only as a tool, but also as a colleague. As a result of the implementation of the machine in the working process, there originates a bond between the author and the machine, and the link between them is a work of art. The more digital technologies enter the life of a maker, the more it is necessary for them to manoeuvre between different types of tactility. Digital technologies do not eradicate tactility. Vice versa, during all the stages of a work process (the screen, the machine, handwork) an author encounters different types of tactility that influence the process as well as the end result. And the machine becomes not only a creator of things, but also the creator of tactility.

Figure 39: Man-made landscape.
Photo credits: "Baraka" (1992), documentary film directed by Ron Fricke.


This article shows that the notions of tactility and touch play an important role in the evaluation of screen-oriented labour, in the body of digital jewellery, and in the process of 3D printing. The traditional interpretation of tactility cannot fathom the stages of pre-production and production because of the semantic charge of real and tangible associated with it. We have shown that direct contact with jewellery has transformed into touch that is mediated through screen and machine. This complicated relation between the new medium, an artist, a work of art, and the viewers was introduced through the concept of Digital Touch. The term signifies the pack of qualities in the process of making jewellery with a 3D software, but also the qualities of the digital materiality, and thirdly, the qualities of machinery production (for example of 3D printing).

We analyzed tactile qualities emerging during the stages of the pre-production and production of digitally-produced jewellery from the point of view of an artistic process and the nature of digital matter. Each of these stages was examined separately, as one of them deals with the relationship with the screen (pre-production), and the other one with the relationship with the machine (production). In the course of the examination of pre-production, such tactile qualitative categories were unravelled as resolution sensitivity, thin-skinned data, and psycho-performative realism. During the examination of production such tactile attributes were brought to light as a 3D printer’s fingerprints, unfinishedness, and glitch.


The condition on which the understanding of the pre-production can be based is the understanding that the digital substance is a sum of pixels. That pixelated representation of the jewellery gains tactile continuity by means of activating emotional and sensual apparatus when watching digital imagery. The act of perception of, or interacting with, digital representations of jewellery becomes embodied experience. Also, 3D models were specified as having delicate flesh because of the variety of visual tools that could be

applicable to the model. However, the visual is not only visual in the stage of pre-production ‒ vision and touch merge and do not antagonize each other anymore.

Digital operations implemented in the process of jewellery production showthe character of data. They can be intentionally defective, serving expressive purposes. This happens because data is thin-skinned and can be deformed just as analog objects. The qualities examined, such as resolution sensitivity, can be some of the conditions for data deterioration. This deterioration can gain an aesthetical effect in the work of art. 

When the time comes to transfer the file into reality, to proceed to production, a 3D printer comes into the process. Substance that exists on the screen abandons its screen embodiment in favour of some new qualities. These qualities are reproduced by the machine with its original signature ‒ by means of a mechanical redistribution of the layers of the material one by one. A specific texture is created ‒ the 3D printer’s fingerprints. Herein, the process is irreversible ‒ the machine that works on the basis of the physical laws of reality works in the paradigm of the parameters On/Off. During such a linear process, however, something unusual can take place ‒ for example, if we purposefully leave the surface intact or keep the support material as an extra visual element. Further still, by glorifying the errors in the printer’s settings, it is possible to create works that celebrate the technological aesthetics of the glitch.


Jewellery manufacturing by means of digital technologies gives birth to new types of tactility that are intrinsic to the work with the screen or the machine. Tactility does not only define the ability to perceive or be perceivable with a touch.


In the future, it would be interesting to analyze the characteristics of tactility at the stage of post-production that was analyzed in the present article. Jewellery is an analog object, that is associated with handwork, and is appreciated from the point of its refinement.

We would like to thank: the Doctoral School of Estonian Academy of Arts, Kadri Mälk, Raivo Kelomees, Jaak Tomberg, Daniil Popov, Paul Emmet, and the JAR team.

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