In Tokyo Smoke Backlash, the 3D Printed Bong Isn't the Real Problem

(Credit: MarketWire)

By now, the furor over Toronto-based designer Alex Josephson's and Tokyo Smoke founder Alan Gertner's remarks about perceived lack of creativity in the glass community has manifest itself not only in trolls smearing Tokyo Smoke across the digital ether, but also in physical glass recreations of the company's divisive abstract contemporary bong, itself 3D printed in "really high-grade steel." In a video interview with Viceland, Tokyo Smoke's founder Alan Gertner, who helped raise three million dollars in Series A funding earlier this year, appears exceptionally (and irreversibly?) tone deaf by going on record lamenting stoners' lack of creativity in glass art. 

Marketed for $13,000 because, in Josephson's words, the machine that printed it cost "a million dollars," the glass community rightly took offense not at the piece's price tag (roughly equivalent to that of a new Nissan Versa) or the piece's experimental nature design, but the callousness of the two interviewees' disparaging comments toward the culture as a whole. Perhaps the comments were a PR stunt abrasive enough to boost Tokyo Smoke's brand by separating it from the culture's old guard. If that's the case, maybe it'll work. Either way, the 3D printed bong isn't the problem.

The fundamental tension balancing diverging tastes roots the controversy in this particular situation. The idea of creating "something that people want to display, that they can be proud of," in Josephson's words, has been a tenet of the glass community for some time. It's part of every artist's base raison. It's a major reason why collecting art of any kind has appeal; art enhances the spaces where it's displayed. (Concerns of the artwork's appreciating value are usually secondary and don't catalyze the spark, the impetus to create art. There are plenty of other ways to make money besides art.) Though Gertner and Josephson understand this and even articulated it in the interview, their tone-deaf comments overshadowed that ideal. 

Printabowl started as an art experiment my brother Saul and I found an itch for when we were in college. Had we studied industrial design and fashion, we probably would've approached the 3D-printed bong in the same pompous way as Tokyo Smoke, likely putting down the artists who've laid track for our own project's existence in the way that Creatives (with a capital "C") are known to do. But because Saul is first a functional glass artist who started out gifting hand pipes he clandestinely lamp worked in a shop donated by contemporary art-glass godfather Dale Chihuly, the glass community's artistic lineage must be acknowledged. 

The entire project has evolved from the satisfaction Saul enjoyed after gifting friends something he made himself. The reason we pursued 3D printing was that we could give everyone, regardless of artistic background or skills, the ability to get lost in creating functional art they'd be proud to give the people they love. We want more people to create things because we're not alone in appreciating the creative high making your own art and sharing it with other people engenders. Printabowl is simply how we're advancing that mission.

We played with the new forms enabled by 3D printing and realized that Printabowl had became our way of contributing our art to smoking culture. Granted, the glass community hasn't always embraced what we're doing because we don't produce the entirety of our pieces in a glass studio, but we also know we can't please everybody. 

Even though many of the most committed glass collectors may not count themselves among the community of collectors that love Printabowl pieces, we're happy being friends with the glass family.