Fleshing Out: Day 2 Seminar

Workshop report by Sabine Seymour about the Fleshing Out Seminar, 2006.

Fleshing Out: Day 2 Scenario

Day 2 of Fleshing Out was organized as a scenario workshop, held in the newly-finished Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam. The participants were an interesting bag of people: representatives from industry such as a manufacturer of uniforms for the Amsterdam fire brigade, developers of materials and textiles, policy makers, educators, theorists, designers, and Dutch artists. The multi-disciplinary character of the presenters and participants provided a wonderful atmosphere.

The title Fleshing Out had three sub-titles to describe the themes: wearable interfaces, smart materials, and living fabric. Virtueel Platform (VP) described four goals for the workshop: “Critique and reflection on the social and cultural application of the technologies presented and demonstrated in the seminar. Reflection on the role and methodology of the different parties involved in the research and design process. Revealing success factors in interdisciplinary collaboration. Exploring future collaborations and projects."

Summary of the seminar

The workshop was built on the lectures of the previous day in Rotterdam, which were summarized by Anne Nigten. She pointed out the idea of ‘developing by numbers’ rather than ‘drawing by numbers’. ‘Developing by numbers’ proposes a pre-numbered step-by-step construction process to develop a project, in particular the technical part.

The promise of the workshop was to “come together to analyze best practices in the interdisciplinary field of wearable technology, come up with scenarios, and research the possibilities of setting up new innovative projects in the Netherlands". Anne Galloway and Sascha Pohflepp have covered the first day in Rotterdam on various blogs, referenced at the end of this text. This article provides a summary of the workshop. Furthermore it focuses on the feedback received from workshop participants and suggests possible next steps for VP’s focus on wearable technologies in 2007.

The workshop groups

The workshop group leaders’ presentations provided guidelines for the participants to choose the group they wanted to participate in during the day. Michiel Scheffer from the Saxion Hogescholen led the Material Science group. He explained in his presentation that Europeans currently consume on average 30 kg of fibre, compared to 5 kg per person in China. With demand in China growing, natural fibres will become a scarce resource in the future. Scheffer established that the cooperation of concept/design, functions/applications, markets, and processes were the main drivers in creating innovation. He described his work as a policy maker that is defined by the funding applications for large projects within the EU 6th Framework. He mentioned Avalon, a project dealing with the use of shape memory polymers and Inteletex, a project dealing with sensoric carbon nanotubes.

Tobie Kerridge, a design researcher at the Royal College of Art in London, stated in his presentation that Grow Your Own “is about designers and artists getting access to materials and processes that underpin biotechnology, including tissue engineering". He asked the following questions: “What role do they play in influencing the research directions of these fields, what new products and services might their involvement engender, and how might they inform a critical debate over the impacts and implications of biotechnology". The first part of the talk referred to scenarios and social fictions when he showed his own project Biojewellery, Suzanne Lee’s BioCouture and Ionat Zurr’s Victimless Leather. In the second part he discussed collaborations and complications — accidents, failures, and misinterpretations.

Thecla Schiphorst’s presentation was titled Bridging Bodies. Schiphorst is an Associate Professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver and relates her work to the user experience of a body. Coming from dance, Schiphorst describes HCI — Human Computer Interface — as the body and process, and acknowledges that human organs have intelligence. She compares them to a body network and quotes Brian Massumi: “When the body is in motion, it does not coincide with itself".

Kristina Andersen, Joanna Berzowska, and Anne Galloway led the Critical Intervention group. Galloway introduced herself as a social anthropologist, Berzowska is the research director of XSLabs and an Assistant Professor of Design and Computation Arts at Concordia University in Montreal, and Andersen is currently an artist in residency at STEIM (Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music) in Amsterdam. During the workshop they wanted to answer the following questions: What is the opposite of a productive collaboration? What are the matters of concern rather than the matters of fact? After the presentations the groups formed; Schiphorst’s group merged with Critical Interventions and thus three large workshop groups emerged.

Final presentations

Each group was urged to present their final results in regards to the aspects of social impact, economic impact, and technology/science (although, the borders between these characteristics are often blurred and not specifically addressed). Participants of the Grow your own group, led by Tobie Kerridge, mentioned the fact that interventions referring to biotechnology needed to become more institutionalized and thus sustainable. The project or topic that provided the context for the discussion was a dress that eats itself, materials that interact with each other. A risk assessment must not have any research unchecked. What about the institutional ethos? Ethical questions very much reflect the legislative differences, the national politics, and the individual views of practitioners. Where are the limits of the practice working with such materials and in such a field? Long lasting and sometimes critical collaborations need to be facilitated by providing physical spaces that can sustain political shifts.

Critical interventions focused on the hopes and fears of each group member, each of whom had to write down their own. The participants then had to pick a hope and fear written down by another participant. This exercise forced a person to address the specified hope or fear on a more abstract level. Some examples were intimacy, durability, the fear for pure functionality, or social concerns in the very specific environments of immigrants or refugees. Changing materials have specific implications for the environment — they can be functional and dysfunctional. For example, a sweater with a healing fabric. One of the group’s representatives noted: “If I don’t want the functionality any more I can kill it!" referring to the options of destroying the function or properties of a garment or material. What about a hybrid of function and aesthetic residency? In a safe group setting intimacy seems to influence the process of collaboration and thus getting a life on its own.

Material science presented the idea of a dream garment that is multifunctional and adapts to different environments. The project idea was primarily technology-based. A basic kit with the option to add ‘open-source’ design is constructed as a modular system. The outer layer’s ‘program’ would allow the garment to fit into the ever-changing environment. The group addressed social issues around constructing such a ‘suit’; in particular having to develop new industries, work situations, and novel disciplines. It was made up of a representative of the Institute of Textile Museum, the owner of a media company, a product manager, a fashion designer, the head of a media lab in the Netherlands, a researcher, a consultant for European funding applications, an architect, a lecturer on textiles, etc. Scheffer instructed the group to think about a product they would like to have if there were no restrictions. Everyone came up with an idea summarized by the terms vital signs, ubiquitous computing, and hybrid adaptive environment. The groups then choose a final product to encompass all previous ideas. The next exercise was to gossip about the idea to allow for an unlimited set of critical comments. The main owner of the idea was present to hear the comments but had turned the back to the group, thus not knowing who was making the remarks. It was a great exercise.

The main focus on materials was addressed through the conversations within the group including memory shape textiles, inflatable, fibre technologies, and sensoring. In a side conversation of the Material Science group, René Wansdronk commented that 23% of the total energy consumption in the Netherlands is used only for heating; 40% of that are used for buildings only. What if one can cut off the peaks of temperature changes with clothing and thus save energy usually needed for heating and air condition? If someone’s temperature of comfort is 24°C and somebody else’s might be 18°C the fluctuations can be worked out through clothing e.g. thermo flexible underwear. Together with low value energy production like solar heating, energy consumption could drastically be reduced.

The final discussion

Due to time constraints, the full breadth of discussions, comments, and possible solutions from the groups were not dealt with in the final discussion. The vast amount of knowledge that was communicated throughout the afternoon was just too much. However, I believe many participants received the information and connections that suited their needs.

During the final discussion the following terms came up: organized conflict, “Demo or die" (Negroponte), the fast obsoleteness of technology, wearable utopia, and always ask the ‘why’. It was also noted that multidisciplinary teams seem to promote innovation best. The existence of different criteria for getting funding for art work versus scientific work causes problems in financing collaborative projects. So the question for the future work of VP will also be the funding issues in the Netherlands within the context of the various disciplines and the European Union.

Collaborations and some facts
Textile Intelligence describes in the article Global Market for Smart Fabrics and Interactive Textiles from the 4th quarter 2005 that “growth in demand is expected in the case of clothing with built-in electronic storage and communication capabilities, and fabrics which provide electromagnetic shielding". With programs like REACH by the European Commission, the industry “has to ensure that the chemicals it manufactures and puts on the market in the EU do not adversely affect human health or the environment." The new EC 7th Framework Programme and a large network of territorial and international collaborators are essential for success in this field as a researcher, facilitator, and entrepreneur. An example of such collaborations is Acar2 (www.acar2.org), a European project with partners from Austria, Germany, France, and Switzerland. Its purpose is the creation of a network of companies, research labs and personalities from the arts and crafts. The topic of this network will be the mix of the potential of smart materials, traditional crafts and process design. Through using some of the remarkable European traditions in the crafts, Acar2 wants to strengthen the European profile and position in the global market.

Another initiative is the collaboration between two departments at the University of Arts and Industrial Design in Linz, Austria, initiated by Sabine Seymour. The Interface Culture department focuses primarily on the electronic components and the Textile Art and Design department deals primarily with the textiles/weaving process of electronically enhanced textiles. Philips as an innovative Dutch company seems to be able to cross the boundaries and foster collaboration between research, art, and commerce with projects like Skin and the LumaLive product.

Comments from questionnaires and conversations

Conversations outside the actual event, in this case the workshop, are often a wonderful way to re-connect to people. Participants were able to connect across disciplines. Most comments surrounding the multidisciplinary character of the participants were well received — though designers expected a more tangible application-driven event with a more market-driven view. Some participants regretted the lack of actual materials to play with, including nanotechnologies. Due to the short time frame, a more streamlined approach to facilitate the event was demanded. A suggested follow-up event was well received by the majority of participants. It was commonly suggested that VP facilitates a next event.

One representative from industry announced that he was under the impression that no new materials have been developed over the last 10 years. But after visiting Fleshing Out his perspective has drastically changed. A comment from a participant when asked about future steps: “Set up another seminar with a balanced group, a selection of interested people out of this starting group and set a more specified theme, i.e. environmental issues in combination with bio technological textiles/materials - this was merely an introduction!"

The future and next steps for VP

VP’s Cathy Brickwood introduced the theme of the book ‘Uncommon Ground’ and an accompanying event that took place in September 2006. Brickwood also presented wearable technologies as a topic of focus for VP for next year: Wearable computing with all its sub-disciplines has developed from a ‘nebulous new thing’ to an actual field. This requires VP to think about the format of another event and relevant themes. It seems that a one-day workshop is not the right format. An expert meeting with a closed set of specialists and practitioners to discuss a very specific question within a set theme appears most effective. The experts shall be from various disciplines with a similar knowledge of the state of the art in this field and having been around long enough to understand the breadth of issues. Such disciplines shall include scientists as well as artists, psychologists as well as technologists, designers as well as philosophers.

Due to VP’s mission and the focus on policies, funding issues, and collaborations, the focus of the next event shall be on Dutch issues within a European context. The themes that were derived from the workshop are too many to discuss. The following is merely an inventory of suggestions derived from discussion during the event for VP’s focus next year:

The actual fabrication
Advances in material science; shape memory; nanotechnology; biotechnology, bio mimicry/copying natural systems; skin tissue; ecosystem; self healing memory; cross fertilization; technology in wearables; electronic components; open-source; a wearable dress that eats itself; attract living organisms; clothes that can infect each other; sustainability; recycling; growing or reaching of waste; the environment;

Intangible matters
Communication; aesthetics versus functionality; revealing identity; personal space; ethical aesthetics or aesthetic ethics; funding issues between art and science; political constraints; adaptation rates; raising awareness; critical collaboration; multi-disciplinary process of collaboration; innovation process; creative process; critical discourse; industry versus art; consumer-driven market;

Special thanks to Jules Marshall


We-make-money-not-art (article by Sascha Pohflepp)

Purse Lip Square Jaw (article by Anne Galloway)

Design.nl (articles by various presenters)

Fleshing Out blog:

Read more about Fleshing Out in:

Leonieke Verhoog's reports about the seminar at the first day of Fleshing Out...
Fleshing Out Seminar

...and the Grow Your Own Workshop with Tobie Kerridge at day 2:
Grow Your Own Workshop

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