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Articles - 31 January 2007
These were some of the projects that inspired the development of the reSkin wearables Lab, a three week intensive program developed by ANAT in collaboration with Craft Australia and The Australian National University.
Twenty artists from across Australia and distant European shores made Canberra their home for three weeks while they were expertly introduced to the world of wearable technologies, body adornment and electronic circuitry. The six facilitators charged with the task of delivering the program were Alistair Riddell celebrated Australian computer musician, Montreal based innovator of electronic textiles Joanna Berzowska, Los Angeles based multimedia designer and programmer Elise Co, internationally renowned designer and jeweller Susan Cohn working with Cinnamon Lee, lighting and object designer based at the ANU and Stephen Barrass, designer of ZiZi, the affectionate couch.
While the intense summer heat of January sizzled in Canberra, the participants and facilitators were busily absorbing new information and generating wearable prototypes with an energy that rivalled the hottest of days. The ANU School of Art was the centre of the activity with most people working from either the textile or gold and silver smithing areas. The Centre for New Media Arts and the Rapid Prototyping Unit also saw a fair share of use over this period. New techniques were presented, knowledge and skills were shared, and concepts were tested through rigorous discussions. Issues of sustainability, environmental impact, responsible design, communicability of objects, interactivity and social networks, were discussed at length in the evolution of the prototypes that were produced as a result of the program. An image diary of the activities of this three week period is available on flickr.
This extreme experiment in electronics and embedded technology brought together internationally renowned jewellers and fashion designers with new media artists. Each participant a prominent artist in their own field of practice, all were equal regardless of their background in their quest to explore the possibilities of wearable technologies. (Details of each participant can be found on the reSkin website). The public had an opportunity to see what wearable technologies is all about at a fashion parade and exhibition that was held at the ANU School of Art on Friday 2 Feb, the last day of the program. This event was also the launch of the ANAT Filter magazine dedicated entirely to wearable technologies.
The WearNow symposium was a further opportunity to draw the public in to the discussion on the future direction of wearable technologies. Held at the National Museum of Australia a project partner in the symposium, the speakers discussed the trends in embedded computation and where this is taking the designers of the future? While Australia is relatively new in this field, this area of research has been extensive in other parts of the world. ReSkin facilitators Joanna Berzowska, Associate Professor of Design and Computational Arts at Concordia University in Montreal and Elise Co, director of Aeolab, design technology consultancy based in Los Angeles gave an international overview of this field of practice and set the context for the symposium.
Craft Australia's role in this program follows logically from previous projects we have undertaken that explore the emerging directions for Australian contemporary craft designer practice. In 2004 Craft Australia undertook its first online forum to investigate the impact of digital technologies on traditional practice. Titled Interact: Contemporary craft in a digital future, the outcome was a confirmation of the ingenuity of craft and designers in their ability to embrace current technologies to achieve unique objects that are meaningful to our sense of place and time in history. Followed closely in 2006 with the publication of a major research project undertaken to evaluate the current state of the craft and design sector, the National Craft Mapping Project report, the research confirmed that craft practitioners are embracing emerging technologies in all aspects of their practice.
The reSkin collaboration with ANAT was an opportunity for both organisations to explore the hybrid nature of current practice and to embed convergent practices within their service delivery. ReSkin was the ideal project for such exploration as it logically and conceptually placed new media practice on the body, a traditional area of focus for craft. The success of both the reSkin Wearables Lab and the WearNow Symposium attest to the interest in Australia to further explore this field of wearable technologies. Research institutions such as the CSIRO, University of Western Australia through SymbioticA and the ANU, have committed funding for further research in this field. Interest in this field by private companies such as NanoVic demonstrates the possibilities for commercial application resulting from such research. While the greatest interest for this research is currently presented by the military sector, it was evident from the presentations that possible applications in the area of health and medicine were also possible.
Significantly both the lab and the symposium demonstrate the role that artists can play in imaging what our futures may become. Projecting into the unknown is a daunting task; however artists have a capacity to see what is not yet clear for the rest of us. It was the possibility of experimentation presented by the reSkin lab that made imagining the unknown possible. Whilst the outcomes of this three week program were exploratory, resulting in very well executed prototypes, the big picture investigation undertaken during the reSkin Lab will manifest in practical outcomes over the next two years. Already projects such as exhibitions, fashion parades, collaborations with dancers and performers have been muted. From a tangible point of view, a significant record and tremendous read is available on the reSkin blog which is still active and open for comments. I urge you to indulge in a read of its contents.
Craft Australia began collaborating with ANAT 18 months ago to bring this project to fruition. Developed with the expert guidance of Alexandra Gillespie, the reSkin Project Manager, the realisation of these discussions was made manifest through the collaboration of project partnerships with The Australian National University and the National Museum of Australia. Funding was made available through the Visual Art Craft Strategy an initiative of the Australian Government and all State and Territory Governments, the Embassy of United States of America and sponsorship from Nanovic Victoria.
31 January 2007