Two weeks ago, Carlos Monleon and I were asked to join Alterfutures under the topic ‘worn’. We presented the notion we personally share on the topic of ‘wearables’ and suggested an alternative understanding to the one currently given by the industry. Apart from presenting a series of personal projects, we covered some case studies expanding on the habit of ‘wearing’ and ‘wears’ as interfaces between bodies and environments.
Carlos Monleón is an artist and designer who whilst tending to his Martian vineyard is working on bridging contemporary remote sensing technologies with ancient textile crafts. Before we entered the stage, speculative designers Mike Vanis & Koby Barhad – makers in residence at Machines Room – presented the ideas behind the prototype they had developed for their ‘Swipe to Shoot’ project – a 3D printed iPhone controlled gun trigger which can be viewed here.
The Bucky-Fans amongst you will have recognized the title as a quote from ‘operating manual to spaceship earth’. In our long conversations, I mentioned this quote to Carlos who told me he himself had been thinking about the wrongness of the words sunrise & sunset as a child and was extremely happy to find out lateron that he had the same thought as Buckminster-Fuller. Inspired by this fact, we came to ask ourselves why we still use the term ‘wearable’ although we have long redefined the process of wearing.
As we both are creatives in the first place, it seems redundant to say we often express ideas better in visual material then with words, written or spoken. However, it always helps when another person looks at your project and you explain and defend it like an opinion. Here is what we managed to agree on:
The noun ‘wear’ primarily describes to the cover of a body. Garments are often referred to as our second skin and hence are pictured in a constant dependence to the physical body. Instead of this rather (one-sided) concept, we started to define wear as a permeable membrane – a boundary of two bodies or spaces, a surface used for display and as such and in relation to technology – an interface.
What if we understand wear as an action? Wearing then describes the interaction of the two entities that sit on either side of the boundary and as an interface, it starts to display manifold information. Hence we suggested wearing as firstly – a reaction, secondly – an interaction and lastly as a form of habitation.
Carlos gave a few examples of the urge and need of wearing as a result of us interacting with physical environments as can be observed in the earliest inuit ‘glasses’, the ones limiting the light irradiation in order to prevent blindness caused by snowy and hence reflective environments.
But there is another environment that shapes our concept of wearing: Quite early on, individuals started to use wear as a display of information. Talking of a social environment, I suggested to look at what happens with the national dress in this instance.
The national dress shows a very literal geographic link to territorial/physical environments which are often represented in color codes. As such, the wear communicates the territorial origin of the individual. But apart from that and maybe more importantly, national wear also started to show personal information like the position the particular individual had within this social environment.
In fact, it has and in some cultures still does reveal how many children one has, if one is married or how old a person is. In this instance, wear became a communication system and a display – starting to resemble what we call social networks today as it gathered personal & social data. Seeing how strongly wear is based on territoriality and locality, I think it is relevant to discuss the concept of wearing in relation to the idea of deterritorialization.
First of all: what do I mean when I talk of deterritorialization (DT) and how does it apply to the act of wearing? As I understand the term that was originally forged by Deleuze and Guattari, it describes two concepts that are relevant to me:
One of them is the idea that individuals detach themselves from native territory in the physical world. An example for this event would be migration. The second interpretation of DT I`d like to stress is dematerialization – bodies that start to inhabit digital spheres, a migration from physical to digital selves.
The idea or the action of wearing is now stretched as there is not only the physical but also the digital body which we have to dress. This plurality of bodies and the loosening of territorial references redefines our understanding of wear: It has become a synergy of the physical & the digital and offers a third environment to inhabit – the digital space.
Now while the two meanings of DT – the physical the digital – at first seem to describe separate concepts, they are closely linked: the digital world and communication technologies fostered globalization – and hence they altered the interaction of bodies with their physical environments.
In my most recent project, Indivicracy, I have been trying to illustrate the tensions that arise from this altered interaction with our environments and the inhabiting of both – the digital and the physical world. I designed body vehicles for the ‘citizens’ living in an Indivicracy that would depict them as a nation but at the same time, turn the government into a visibly recognizable social network and hence replace the need to base it in a territory. So in some way, the body-vehicles became what has been the national costume in the territorially based nation state without being territorially defined.
Therefor, one could possibly consider these suits as national costumes for the digital environment – and similar to our notion of the spacesuit being a national costume for moon or mars these body-vehicles would be our spacesuit for digital spheres.
While we had mentioned that industry focusses on wearables as devices that support ubiquitous computing at the very beginning of our talk, we ended concluding on the thought of ubiquitous wearing. As we start to inhabit various environments, we might come up with various concepts for the action of wearing. So how do we wear in the digital spheres? How do we wear in remote spheres? And how will that affect our notion of wearing in the real world?
Considering I left out quite some chunks of our conversation at Alterfutures, I hope you still enjoyed this synopsis. Also, this article will have a follow up from Carlos which Iwhich will give you some more insights in his work.