This week we are featuring blog posts from our 6 Philly-based Unknown Territory Artist-In-Residents. Our second post comes from Tara Webb.-Lee T.
As a costume designer and theater tech, I see knowing how to work with sewing machines, looms, and even knitting needles as a technical skill. In my experience costume or fashion design is often considered a ‘soft’ technology, it’s easily dismissed as being technically uncomplicated. (Typically, costume designers even get paid much less in the industry than say, lighting, sound or video designers.) But I believe the construction and manufacture of clothing can be mathematical, chemical and I daresay, even a scientific design process. I like to ask my students if they can tell me how many equations might have gone into the design of a tshirt or a pair of jeans they might be wearing in class on any given day. I’ll admit, costume design was an easy place for me to land in the technical theater world, which was still largely a male-dominated industry when I was figuring those things out. I was lucky enough to have grown up with and worked around a lot of supportive computer nerds, however, so I have a parallel interest in not just the artistic design processes of art and tech, but also the technical aspects. All that to say, this first month at the Hacktory has been a long awaited convergence for me.
The use of technology in art is brain melting and exhilarating and I am still figuring out where I fit in in terms of what is practical and where it can be used in costumes. When I went to The Last Hope in New York in 2008 – the DIY world, Craft and Make, Myth Busting, 2600, science and technology were evolving and mingling. Hackers were making LED sex toys, cleaning bicycles with electrodes, picking locks, tracking movement with tiny cameras, everyone had badges with RFIDS and of course, there were costumed LARPers wandering around and tables where you could make blinky throwies. I thought to myself “How did I miss all this over the last 20 years?” and “Why didn’t I get into this sooner?”. Now I see all this processing and circuitry I’m learning about as an evolutionary drop in the bucket in some grand installation project that’s been swirling round my subconscious. I don’t even know if it will be a practical thing to wear in the end, but I’m enjoying the chaos of the upload of information into my brain. I keep thinking of Neal Stephenson’s “In the Beginning…was the Command Line”. What kind of car is this and did I know I’d be driving a hoverbus? Or maybe it’s really a submarine with Davinci wings? While perhaps not directly related to what do for day to day art making, it is nevertheless fascinating to be learning a new vocabulary and not unlike learning to write in some arcane poetic algorithm from my future self.