I’ll start this off a little from the side; what is your relationship to fashion?
Hm (chuckles) What is my relationship to fashion? I’ve been experimenting with it for a very long time. At a very young age I was using it to figure out my identity. I was even experimenting with gender for a while. I hated being a girl for the longest time, so when I was 12 I said I was going to be a boy and I just cut all my hair off and started dressing in boys clothing, very sporty, male-gendered clothing for a few years. That kind of upset my parents a lot (laughs) My dad didn’t really care, my mom freaked out. But then I started to not care and I got over that, I said “now I’m going to be a girl” and started wearing skirts all the time or trying to figure out what it meant to flirt but using fashion.
So I’ve been using fashion in that sense, through music genres and all that kind of stuff. I think because I’ve tested it out so much my relationship to it now is more about playing around with the idea of subverting it or subverting what people consider what is fashionable. Not just as a vehicle for expression but trying to push it a little further, especially questioning its relationship with technology. I had toyed with the idea of being a fashion designer at one stage, so maybe that’s part of the attraction to working with the medium.
I hear that for you, fashion is a mode of communication, and you’ve done different kinds of speaking, even nonverbally, through it. Even now your project might be continuing that speaking; does your project have to do with communication through fashion?
I actually hadn’t thought of it explicitly as a fashion project, maybe because it’s been about repurposing clothing that had been designed by other people or focusing on what’s the right technology and less framing it as a contribution to fashion. Which is interesting because fashion is the medium here, and it is all about trying to give people a mode of expression through their body. Therefore communication is very important, and I’m still trying to nail what it’s actually saying. The pieces are supposed to be shifting, saying different things or communicating. That’s been harder to think about holistically.
I like that you use the word medium because I saw you were the medium in which people were playing through. I’m curious about that decision, being like, a spirit medium almost of these two people, and when you decided to locate that on yourself, or at the least, the garment.
It’s like my Times Square project last year [playing with audio installations in a picnic scene] and putting it on a person to see how it changes. Communication is something people struggle with, it’s something I struggle with, in terms of true intimacy, or maybe vulnerability, like the communication of vulnerability. It seems to be a theme these days, like people are looking for a way to talk about their confusion or frustrations. Or maybe there isn’t even a time to properly think or communicate. People have to define themselves through their branding, their curation of self. So much of it is cerebral, and I feel like sometimes there are a lot of things that are happening underneath that people aren’t aware of. Maybe it’s trying to uncover that for myself, for people. Maybe that’s the reason, at least metaphorically, it could be better placed on the body as opposed to something else. Maybe it is so people can build a relationship with it, like how you do with your fashion identity.
If you could imagine your project on a person and in a space, what comes to mind? What kind of situation?
That’s what I’m struggling with. I keep thinking about it as something people take home and have with them in their living room. A living room is such a potent space, though it can be very dull if you don’t try. Maybe it’s about how you can make that mundane setting more exciting or more unexpected. On the other hand, sometimes it does feel like it can lend itself to a larger group setting.
My practice has been trying to figure out how to get lots of people to play or work together. Collaborate and communicate on that level. It could be a larger scale project where the way different people are communicating in the space together could be an interesting exploration.
Do you think the type of clothes that you would use would differ in those two spaces?
The tricky thing about these wearables projects is, one, the comfort question, and in a home situation it needs to be a lot more comfortable than if you’re out in a social setting. The other part is the actual sensing or the control or the messaging. All that stuff is very tricky to get working in a way that can be meaningful. On one hand I don’t want this to be the limiting parameters but on the other it does seem like it will be.
Is the struggle for a meaningful expression coming from where and how this is embedded? And have you found other things that you think have done successfully what you’re trying to do? Does the problem come because you’re working with clothes in these certain spaces or is it like a technology thing in particular?
Thinking through relationships with fashion, fashion might be tricky because the minute you design something and if people were to wear it, that’s almost prescribing a fashion to them. Unless you’re working with them to customize it. And even with these jackets people have come up to me and say things like “I have the perfect jacket for this, can you bling it up?”
So maybe that’s a better medium or better way to think about this, as inviting people to bring something they’re comfortable with. Then return it to them in an altered state and it being a co-design process because otherwise, what is a one-size-fits-all situation? Then it becomes a commodity. But there are general elements that are now a requirement for building the next one, such as pockets and lining, which are assets of the garments themselves.
I’ve become very weary of the negativity towards what people are saying about wearable technology right now, that it doesn’t do what people say it’s doing. So putting a stake in the ground saying ‘here’s a thing that does this and will tell you this’ is like knowing you’re going to be saying false probably. How do you be genuine about your practice in that sense but then not have to make false claims?