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MAK Fashion Lab #2: Scientific Skin

In early 2013 Sabine Seymour of Moondial approached us and asked whether we’d be interested in developing a piece of work which could live for three months in Vienna’s MAK Museum. We asked artist Fabio Antinori, designer Alicja Pytlewska to work with us to explore the relationship between interface, interaction, printing and sound. What we created was an interactive installation which invited visitors to approach and even touch three interactive screenprints. The output of the interaction was a generative soundscape which will continue to evolve as the piece is interacted with. The project was full of technical challenges whether it was pushing the Touch Board to work with 2M high sensors, large scale printing on Tyvek or most importantly, developing a graphical language that could tie the project together. The images below tell part of the story. The rest will be told by a video to be released shortly!

From the beginning, the project has been focused on simplifying the physical form of the interface with the Touch Board. Rather than presenting visitors to the exhibition with an obvious button to press, we wanted to explore how we could create graphics which were referential to, but not dominated by, the underlying technology. While refining various ideas we realised that we could print Electric Paint onto a fabric and allow visitors access to both sides, hopefully creating an interface that would defy belief.

Once we had settled on the concept of creating an interactive print we had to start the practical work of materials selection and design. The first choice was what to print onto. We chose to use a material known as Tyvek because it bridged the gap between Bare Conductive’s work on paper, and the museum’s interest in cultivating work around fashion and technology. Tyvek is a synthetic material which sits somewhere between paper and fabric and has a lightness which we felt would help us achieve the reductionist interface we were aiming for. The graphics for the screens were developed by Alicja, using the Wiener Werkstatte (among other significant works) as a reference point. The intent of the graphics was to give the prints a bold dynamism without overtly hinting that they might have an electrical function.

The Tyvek was printed at K2 screen in London using a 2.5M x 1.5M screen. The size of the screen was impressive, and from what we have heard, the largest in the UK. The Tyvek was printed in three stages, an initial layer of Electric Paint to create the sensors, a layer of black ink (not Electric Paint) to “hide” the sensors and finally a gold print on the back. In technical terms, the only electrically “active” layer of material was the ten sensors printed on each sheet using Electric Paint.

Printing the Tyvek sheets was a serious task, but thankfully K2 was willing to help. As you can see from the image above, it took quite a few people to get each sheet printed.

This project pushed technical boundaries in every direction. K2 had not printed on such a scale with Tyvek before and as you can see from the bubling in image above, it took some practice before we were able to produce a print that everyone was happy with.

 

The Touch Boards were connected to the sensors on each sheet via shielded wire. On the end of each wire was a small piece of metal which made contact with the top end of sensor, help in place with a magnet on the opposite side. This simple magnet connection made it easy to mount and dismount the Tyvek sheets as well as providing a way for the wire to quickly detach were someone to be rough with either the wire or the Tyvek

Contour uses three Touch Boards, one for each sheet. Ten of the 12 electrodes on the boards were extended out (via the breakout pins) with shielded cable which was then attached to the tops of the sensors on the sheets. The shot above was during installation, before we had attached all of the sensors or tidyied the wiring.

Here Matt is installing the Mac Mini computer which was used to take inputs from the Touch Boards and turn them into a generative soundscape. Thankfully the computer has four USB ports making it possible to connect up all three boards

 

The entire installation is run from a Max/MSP patch designed by Fabio. The patch uses inputs from the Touch Boards to both trigger and manipulate a series of sounds derived from machinery which is associated with examining the human body such as EKG machines and various scanners. These sounds are combined with synthesizers and manipulated to create a landscape of sound which visitors navigate through and change. Any interaction with the piece is logged and will effect the nature of the sound from that point forward.

Almost done! With the cables run and the piece hanging off the cieling, there is only a little more tidying to go before its ready to be tested.The final step of the installtion will be to install the white plastic covers which cover the Touch Boards and the computer.

 

The Scientific Skin exhibition is looking at many aspects of the relationship between fashion, technology and the body. In addition to Contour, the exhibition also featured work by Austrian designer Christian Poell who has developed a series of leather tanning processes with some spectacular results. Though none of his pieces were there in person, we were able to spend time with the incredible imagery from his look books.

Alicja spent a huge amount of time trying to understand the space within which her graphics would sit for this piece. The graphics define the meaning of the piece and demand a deep cultural context. In creating the rich output that she has, Alicja looked at a variety of sources including the Wiener Werkstätte, a community of artists who worked in Vienna in the early 20th century. The MAK museum was extraordinarily gracious in providing pieces for the exhibition. Pictured above is a glass serving set by Josef Hoffman, from 1912.

Wiener Werkstätte’s work provides an essential framework for discussion about the development of pattern and graphics in the presence of technology.

We were flattered to be asked to leave a single Touch Board behind so that it could be displayed adjacent to the Wiener Werkstätte work. There was plenty of discussion at the opening about how the logic of a PCB is not unrelated to the logic of graphics and communication design.