Archive for January, 2009

Design and desire

30 January 2009

Last Sunday the New York Times ran a fascinating cover story called “What do women want?” on a group of female researchers who are trying to understand what ignites female lust. It’s a really diverse treatment of the subject, with theories ranging from intimacy to narcissism, all explored through robust clinical studies.

My particular interest in the piece relates to the arousal-sensing dress I’m working on as part of my biodynamic clothing project. The premise of the project is for the garment to sense when the (female) wearer is aroused and to move in response. My original framework was based on an internal/external model, where the goal was to take an internal emotional state and project it outwards onto the “skin” of the body, much like a peacock or any of a series of other animals. Using that construct, it seems most plausible to use light or some other display technology to communicate the output. But all along I’ve really had my mind set on using motion for the output, a decision that has created numerous design opportunities, as well as many obstacles.

Reading the article, a passage struck me that I believe illustrates another possible framework for viewing the movement aspect of the garment. In this section, the author is explaining a theory relating to the disconnect between female test subject’s subjective self-evaluation of their arousal and the physical biodata, and a contrasting tendency in men.

The penis is external, its reactions more readily perceived and pressing upon consciousness. Women might more likely have grown up, for reasons of both bodily architecture and culture – and here was culture again, undercutting clarity – with a dimmer awareness of the erotic messages of their genitals.

Motion, then, is indicative of a totally different construct – that of a leveling between men and women. Female arousal, as the article makes plain, is mysterious and often impossible to detect. Arousal in men is, by contrast, apparent, and its mode of expression is through motion. Therefore it is natural to imagine that a prosthesis (for clothing is prosthesis, at its root) depicting female arousal would also exhibit motion.

This passage also suggests to me a powerful justification for the arousal-sensing garment: to conceptually bridge the gap between mind and body for wearer and/or audience. The dress is not intended as a ready-to-wear piece – it’s an exploration into the power of technology to bring responsiveness and emotion to previously static products in our lives. But the idea of using technology to bridge this mind-body gap is very intriguing. One macro interest area for me in my work is the notion of how objects can transform our interactions with others. But perhaps this idea of biodynamic clothing could also hold potential for self-discovery, so that in the process of interacting with an object, you strengthen connections within yourself.

PS: As to why the graphic above, it’s the first pull quote from the article and I just really loved the type treatment!

On process and production

20 January 2009

I’m currently in the process of getting some of my work up online, and as I do this, I’m realizing there are aspects of process that I really want to share. Before I went back to design school, I had very little idea of how most things were made, and learning about manufacturing and production has been one of the most thrilling aspects of becoming a designer. I’m fascinated by molds, lathes, mills, laser-cutters, and all the other technical and not-so-technical tools and processes used to transform material into product.

But beyond my own fascination, I feel that it’s important for everyone to start becoming more aware of how the things we use are made. One of the biggest challenges in creating more sustainable production and consumption cycles is that we have lost touch with these processes. Products appear on our shelves and in our homes like magic, and it’s easy that way not to appreciate the tremendous amounts of energy, expertise, and material that went into getting them there. I feel about products much the way that many in the slow and local food movements feel about food – that our loss of connection to the production of our consumables makes it hard for us to understand why we should value these things.

Understanding how things are made also helps consumers parse tradeoffs in cost and quality. Is the product more expensive because of the name and logo, or is there actual handcrafting that augments the value and therefore the cost? Manufacturers are catching on to the idea that a story of craft helps justify a premium, but how to know how much truth is behind the story without some education in the basic ways that materials are shaped and formed?

I’ll be showing photos from my own processes in future posts, but for now, I wanted to show this photo from a silk factory I visited in the Fergana Valley, in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan is famous for the now-ubiquitous ikat print, which there is made from weaving a silk warp with a cotton or silk weft. But the silk all starts this way, as pods which are boiled in an iron vat over an open fire. The women use sticks to gather the strands from the pods as they are loosened by the hot water and pass them over a hook to a woman who spins the filaments together into a continuous thread.

I know that most silk factories are more modern-looking than this Uzbek one, but I never buy silk at Mood without thinking of matter-of-fact way these women went about that first step of coaxing open the papery pods and reeling in those translucent fibers.

Mongolian feltmaking

20 January 2009

I’m starting some experiments into making my own felt this week and I came across this really interesting video on Mongolian feltmaking. As shown in the video, the nomads in the Mongolian/Kyrgyz/Kazakh area use felt for their traditional houses, called gers or yurts. Having spent some time in one (in Kyrgyzstan, not Mongolia) on a very cold day, I can tell you their felt is amazingly insulating.

My felt will be for an entirely different purpose, to be seen in the coming weeks if I can get it to work.

Annabelle Verhoye

20 January 2009

I’ve been a fan of Annabelle Verhoye‘s work ever since I read a profile on her in an Australian magazine a few years ago. But on these snowy winter days I’m really feeling her gorgeous, saturated color palette.

Emily Barletta

19 January 2009

I love these sculptures by Emily Barletta, a Brooklyn-based fiber artist. Thank you designboom for calling attention to this beautiful work. I’m always interested in artists and designers who are playing with the contrasts between hard and soft, and exploring the possibilities of different textures. But beyond the intellectualizing, these just speak to me.

Transformative architecture

19 January 2009

The New York Times last week had a marvelous piece on an incredible apartment designed and inhabited by Hong Kong architect Gary Chang. Chang remodeled the apartment he grew up in to contain 24 different  layouts made possible by sliding and folding configurations. I love this example of architecture applying itself to the needs of living in today’s world. We know that density is going to be an increasingly important strategy for more sustainable urban environments, but density also creates problems. For cultures that have spent the past two or three generations migrating out of cities into sprawled suburbs, the move towards denser cities and communities is going to be difficult. We are going to have to learn to live with less space and more people around us.

When space is at a premium like this, it becomes less negative volume than positive element. Like clay, it is a medium to be sculpted and shaped. Chang’s apartment is a great example of how designers and architects can shift their thinking when they really consider the space, rather than the container. This may be a radical example, but it is easily distilled into practical, novel solutions for accommodating many functions in a small space. It is transformative, both within itself, literally, but also as a forerunner of the kind of solutions we will soon be seeing in our cities.

My favorite view is this one, with the hammock. If you could have 24 rooms in your apartment, certainly at least one would have a hammock, wouldn’t it? But all the views are wonderful, and worth a look.

I love this Orange ad

10 January 2009

This ad was directed by RGB6, which is profiled in the latest issue of ID magazine. There’s something really joyful about the box of tape coming alive, and so whimsical about the way the ad is constructed, from a series of stills. I’m reminded a bit of the extraordinary animations done by South African artist William Kentridge.

You can watch the ad here. A Kentridge film is below.

Eye candy: Alberto Seveso’s illustrations

10 January 2009

Can’t remember where I found this but this series of illustrations is really beautiful. Kind of reminds me of the Julius Bissier works I posted a couple of months ago.

Victoria Wilmotte: Domestic landscapes

8 January 2009

Another Surface magazine find: Victoria Wilmotte’s ceramic carafes from her domestic landscapes master’s project. According to the article, her goal was to create three-dimensional objects from two-dimensional drawings. Maybe something was lost in the translation of the article (isn’t that what designers do every day? translate drawings into form? or am I missing something?) but regardless I think the forms are really striking on their own and do create a sort of tabletop landscape.

Eye candy: LED lollipops

8 January 2009

Look at this! If this isn’t joy, I don’t know what is. From the NYT, this is the full story.

Surface collages

8 January 2009

Last month’s issue of Surface magazine (the Avant Guardian issue) had so many visually interesting spreads it made me into a subscriber. I loved this set of weird collages. Not all are totally successful, but they’re interesting to look at and they’re very unusual for a glossy magazine in that they don’t seem to be selling anything.

Tall chair

8 January 2009

This tall chair makes me smile. I think it’s from a recent T Magazine.

Reclaimed soccer ball bag

8 January 2009

I think this is just so cool-looking, and a really sweet idea. I love products that have a story from a previous life. It’s offered by Branch Home here.