June 25, 2005

Wearable Relations

A performer sits on stage or at least in focus, generally, perhaps always, they are female. Traditionally in a dress. There is a pair of scissors in front. The audience is invited to come up and cut away a piece of clothing, one by one.

Yoko Ono created the source code in 1964 and first performed it in Tokyo that year. The tone apparently was violent and angry. Performed in NY, 2005, by Xaviera Simmons, the violence of the act, the cut, remained, but tension was the dominate feeling. To me the piece works primarily as a relational aesthetic. What makes it interesting is watching the audience, who cuts next, and how? Does someone move, break the silence, or do we all just sit? How do they cut and who are they anyway?

Then again I've always preferred audiences to stages, very few performers have what it takes to fill the absurd amount of time given to them in our culture, despite what their egos might say. The audience with its multitudes offers a far more interesting view, to me at least. Watching the cut piece being watched made it clear that most audiences, even in the art world, are far more comfortable looking at a stage (with next to nothing going on!) then looking at themselves. Well its either the look at the stage, or enter into "subway mode", the blank looking at nothing glaze that constitutes urban travel for millions. Looking at other people is of course dangerous, it might spark a fight, or worse yet a conversation, an insight or a new piece of knowledge.

Of course Ono's piece still works as a staged focus, the issues it addresses, the relationship of audience and performer, clothing and human, violence and invitation, have shifted little in four decades. Uptown at the Cooper Hewitt is an exhibition Extreme Textiles, and one wonders just how much more extreme Ono's dress is then those on display there.

Fittingly of all one name sections, "stronger, lighter, faster, smarter, safer", "smarter" proved to be the least intelligent. The industrial revolution did not lead to clothes with machines in them (the zipper being the simple exception), is there any reason to think the computational era will lead to clothes with computers in them? Then again one of the traditional functions of clothes is to broadcast identity, perhaps that is where the "wearable computing" comes in? Somehow the webbed suits that turn humans into high rent flying squirrels seem to say more about the wearer, but not perhaps as much as Ono's scissors.

Posted by Abe at June 25, 2005 12:50 PM


Well, the industrial revolution didn't put machines in the clothing, but it did totally embed machines in the process of clothing making until clothing is basically impossible without machines..So machines are embedded in clothing insofar as clothing can't be made without them.

Don't you think the integration of computers into clothing would depend on what it is we see as the function of clothing, and whether computers can enhance that. Some of it, especially the flashy visuals, could have a lot of play. That's actually where the bit of the exhibit I saw fell down. What about style?

How about those LED-light scrolling name-belt buckles? could be something larger and flashier.. actual camoflauge clothing, animated graphics, etc. Or fixing up your grill so it actually flashed? don't you think folk would spend money on that?

As far as augmenting its own use, for specialized usese someone will spend money on it.

However, clothing could also allow us to augment our current phsyical abilities. There are already those prosthetic devices that allow those missing limbs to outperform folks born with thre regular complement (i.e. those amazing, gazelle-like lower-leg prosthetics that allow folks wearing them to run faster than anyone without them).. Embedding microchips that allow such things to be responsive and interactive would have some appeal? Probably not for mass consumption I guess.

But generally it seems more likely that first, most things embedded in clothing will not be for the benefit of the buyer. Surveillance, if 'only' in the name of market research, seems a more profitable investment to those who make the stuff. If the Berkeley public library can put an RFID tag in my book, how much more valuable is that tag in something that will really record my movements through space? that wearable medical information patch freaked me out.

But Ono's piece is better art, I agree.

"Well, the industrial revolution didn't put machines in the clothing, but it did totally embed machines in the process of clothing making until clothing is basically impossible without machines..So machines are embedded in clothing insofar as clothing can't be made without them."

Yep, yep, this piece suffered from trying to weave 3 potentially separate ones together, but that's absolutely essential to understanding the machine/clothes relation. When I started writing the piece my stance was that computing won't go into clothes, just transform the production completely. But then I started thinking about the information broadcasting component to clothing, something that's been their for centuries and now I'm starting to lean the other way. Computing in clothes by itself is a non starter, but as support for something like broadcasting an identity, that's a whole other story.

I actually went up to the Cooper-Hewitt for some "garden party", filled with no one I knew, but plenty of characters, a lot of older freaks with lots of money. I would have killed for some sort of wireless name tag, a way to scan the crowd and figure out who they are. I can feel myself swinging back into a pro wearable state as I write. The key I think is to make things guided by social factors not by the tech itself.