Industrial technology research is driven by the desire to invent the next killer application, whereas artistic research holds the chance to question implications. One critical question is whether what we make is really more important than how we make it. Artists as inventors shall not generate new things that meet new buyers, but new procedures that question rooted but hidden values concerning materials, natural resources, geographical locations, personality traits, physical skills, and qualifications.
With this intention, Punch Couture explores machine knitting as an artistic research medium. The project employs punch card operated knitting machines, a technology that was widely used in households of the 1980s. The production of these machines has stopped since then. To us, this demonstrates a significant ideological shift that steered market attention from producer technologies to consumer technologies. Our approach centers on the reappropriation of this early textile fabrication technology as an artistic technology by combining it with emerging digital fabrication routines.
Punch cards are ancient physical information carriers. Punch Couture questions how the affordance of punch card operated knitting machines would change if we alter the possibilities to create and distribute punch cards. Apart from holding information about visual patterns, can punch cards eventually hold information about functionalities? Given that electronic yarns have become widespread, would it be possible to use domestic knitting machines to produce basic electronic parts like resistors, antennas, inductors, and capacitors? What if, instead of purchasing hardware electronics we could directly knit them from scratch in our homes? Would this potentially change the way we perceive the coming into being of electronic objects, their maintenance, potential risks as well as the stakeholders involved in the processes? In an imaginary world of home knitted electronics, how would we relate to our devices? Would we mend them with crossing threads for repair? Would we protect them with lavender sachets instead of silica gel? Since the global electronics industry is worth billions, how would such an alteration upset existing power balances and shift societal values?
The outcome of this research project is threefold. Punch Couture includes the design and production of punch cards resulting in an archive of patterns for specific electronic components knittable with punch card operated machines, a workshop exploring the combination of new digital fabrication technologies and early home knitting machines and forming the conceptual and technological foundation for an audio-tactile installation.