Originally designed as an anarchistic subversion of authority, the Liberator has taken on new meaning in the hands of MendeDesign. Jeremy Mende filtered the gun's blueprints through a computer algorithm based on the number of people killed by handguns across the world. This process skewed and flattened the deadly 3-D schematics to become a series of inert 2-D etchings that can hang on a wall.
Is it strict data visualization? Or is it abstract art? It's something in-between, Mende says.
"The actual numbers of homicides are not 'readable' in the informational/educational sense," Mende explains. "The data are used as a deliberate distortion filter—as a means to deform something by what its potential effect is. What the images represent is what the Liberator Handgun data will look like if you merge it with its potential effect."
These etched Liberators, each depicting a few of the gun's parts, represent a more complete picture than the original gun itself. The etchings tell the story of not just the object, but the object and its real-life consequence. If that sounds overly philosophical or academic, then you’re missing just how politically charged this piece is. It's anti-gun to its very physical core. But Mende doesn’t want his statement to end there.
"We live in a time where data, numbers, and information are being de-coupled from their potential moral, ethical, and social consequences," Mende tells Co.Design. "‘Freedom’ is often represented as an inalienable right, but I don't believe it's a blank check. Publishing has consequences—and responsibilities—and it is not different for less tangible things like data."
Mende brings up a point that most of us would call a slippery slope. Should information be free, and freely available, if that information can harm others? At what point does that freedom to publish interfere with our individual freedoms?
Today, the 3-D printed gun is a threat to no one. Any zealous anarchist can learn to hand-manufacture a gun or can cross a state line or go to a gun show and purchase it instead. But Mende's protest nods to a time in the not-so-distant future, when ubiquitous, technologically superior 3-D printers blur the line between information and object. If we have no restrictions on this information, then we essentially have no restrictions on guns. Because anyone can, with a few convenient clicks of the mouse, build a personal arsenal.