Artist Selection, and Ponderings on Interactivity

But, what if our clothes became more than a basic covering? Creates a dress code that acts as an extension of you and adapts to the environment on your behalf? That’s the question fashion designers are starting to toy with, be it in the pre-prototype, prototype, or ready for market phase. (Kimani, 2016)

As one of the most ambiguous and cross-disciplinary forms, fashion could be anything from a product, to a visual communication, to avant-garde, to a commodity, to a new form of self-expression. This uncertainty fascinates me immensely, and as such I will be choosing an artist who dabbles in interactive fashion: Lauren Bowker, founder of The Unseen.

(Images from here. Example of a way clothing might be traditionally interactive, through responding to your movements. Arguably, fashion is also interactive, as a whole, in that you get to choose, customise and coordinate whichever pieces you want to create different outfits, such that it involves both the “artist” and the active participant.)

Due to the convergence of disciplines, it is difficult to describe her, but here are the two main descriptors:

  1. Convergence of science and art: Though she does hold a design degree, Lauren Bowker is also primarily a material alchemist. Thus, her works are defined by the materials she personally developed through chemical experimentation.
  2. Interest in the human condition: A famous story is of how she fell sick while studying, and discovered that she wished to “produce material that could speak for you“. Thus, her works are often dynamic and dependent on derivable information.

Combining her self-developed materials and her desire to accurately reflect the self would then lead to fashion pieces which provide visual feedback through said materials based on the collected data. For example, a jacket which turns from yellow to black through the use of a colour-change ink based on the pollution levels.

Examples of works:

  • A I R collection: changes colour based on the environment, from heat and sound to moisture levels

  • PHNX collection: Collaboration with Peachoo + Krejberg, ripples based on movement

  • F I R E hair dye: Changes colour based on surrounding temperature

Ponderings on Interactivity

Out of curiosity, I looked up existing essays from other classes, and was vaguely intrigued to see that many works somehow tended to… Look similar. It is not a phenomenon I can explain, but many of them have similar vibes, in terms of visual style.

(For example, the usage of colourful lights arranged in wide areas, or the emphasis on the organic form reflected in digitally-rendered interactive pieces.)

Which brings to mind a few questions:

1) Why are there so many similar traits among interactive art pieces?

The foremost answer is likely that we all happened to choose fairly similar pieces because our preconceived notions of interactive art tends to be of installments and sculptures. Also, that perhaps it’s harder to choose things which don’t have defined forms, like games.

Entropy, active participation, process than product. Though these factors create an infinite number of artworks, many similarities are retained.

In terms of input, humanity is ultimately fairly homogeneous. Physically, we all perceive the world in a fairly similar way. As such, interactive art can only use what humanity is capable of, such as visual or auditory sensors. Even if technology expands to be able to cover “thoughts”, it is difficult to cater to program a different reaction to every single input, where we need to place them within sets, like “anger” to comprise any emotion from rage to irritation.

In terms of means, interactive art pieces are often severely limited by available technology, where there are limits to what can be done in the field of interactive art. For example, it is only possible to generate a feedback loop based on physical factors, like motion or voice frequency. Even pieces which claim to “tune into psychological state” can only determine it by things like pulse rate. If we were able to, for example, devise a technology that can detect your political standing from your thoughts than through your words, there might be a larger scope for interactive art to work in.

In terms of output, it may be that interactive art is a fairly new concept. We have not yet explored the various ways in which it can be incorporated, where mediums such as LED lights are one of the most explored ways. The rise of new media also means the expanding of possible platforms, from a physical form, to a digital form, such that things like the internet can be used for art.

2) What is the difference between interactive art in new media and interactive everything else?

If we compare new media versus old media, the difference is evident (two-way versus one-way and thus lack of an immediate feedback loop).

If we compare to things which can be interacted with, the difference is also evident. Just being able to perceive something (through sight, touch, etc) does not make it interactive art, which needs to involve an element of a fluid form shaped by your input. Think a wall at JCube, versus the photo wall at JCube.
Photo wall at JCube. Click on image for link.

The rest is unclear. Where is the line between “art” and “non-art” drawn? If we justify interactive art as having to involve the element of dynamically changing in response to feedback from the participant(s), would something like a lie detector be considered interactive art?

The only criteria I can come up with is “functionality” versus lack thereof, but it would be full of loopholes.

3) Where will interactive art go in the future and/or how do we integrate interactive art into society

Interactive art is, in a way, already integrated into society. Things like the elevator coming to you when you press a button, where the pressing indicates that you want an elevator (input leads to output) (albeit not very dynamic outputs).

The problem lies in that society is built to be homogeneous. The elevator may not come to you immediately, because it needs to cater to other people first. Or, the button might be too high to reach, or the elevator too small for you to enter. Currently, interactive art is also limited by said homogeneity, where technology has not reached a stage where we can create 100% individualised outputs for every single input.

I suppose the path forward for interactive art would thus involve 1) more time to delve into the subject, to explore more ways in which we can engage interactivity, and 2) further developments in technology as to be able to create even less homogeneity.

If both of these were to come, it would mean that we would be able to revolutionise society, from something which marginalises minorities, into something which can cater to everyone. It would not solve the issue that we still have to share physical resources though (you can’t just build an elevator per person), so interactive art may also be helpful in, at least, making better compromises such that everyone can be somewhat satisfied.

  • Caula, R. (2014). THE UNSEEN develops wind reactive ink that changes color upon contact with air. For designboom. (link).
  • Howarth, D. (2013). Clothes that change colour according to climate by Lauren Bowker. For dezeen. (link).
  • Kimani, N. (2016). Interactive Clothing: The future of fashion is all for connectivity. For The Designers Studio. (link).
  • The Unseen. (link).
  • WIRED. (2018). The Unseen uses chemistry to create reactive fashion. For WIRED. (link).
  • Cover image from here

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EC Chee

a local peanut (◡‿◡ )

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