Textiles at the interface of fashion and technology
Wearable technology is an emerging interdisciplinary field that brings together artists, designers, scientists and humanists from various fields and perspectives. Clothing acts as a textile interface and creates new possibilities for sensing, processing, performance, displaying and the merging of body and environment.
In my research at the Laboratory of Open Matters (LOOM) at NTU’s School of Art, Design and Media, I hybridise bioart, sustainable design and technology to create interdisciplinary possibilities. By exploring and developing advanced materials, I aim to extend the functionality of materials and widen their artistic and creative potential (Figure 1).
In a collaborative project with the Biodesign Institute at the Arizona State University in the US, we are using a fermentation process and symbiotic bacterial and yeast cultures to form new tactile media from cellulose fibres. The resulting leather-like material can be developed further into sensorial material by embedding conductive composites (Figure 2).
Weaving stories from clothing and textiles
While exploring advanced materials, I am also re-examining the role of the designer in the era of new media and researching the use of clothing and textiles as a connective tissue between heritage and future technology.
Talking Cheongsams, an exhibition I curated in collaboration with Mr Hedren Sum from the NTU Institute of Science and Technology for Humanity, creates an interface that connects the strong cultural significance and history of the iconic cheongsam with the personal experiences and stories of wearers and viewers (Figure 3).
Referencing original cheongsams from museum archives, we designed more than 20 cheongsams, some of them interactive, using unconventional fabrics and threads and tea-dyed silk objects stitched on water-soluble material. As the material dissolved, only the patterns and dress forms remained. By touching conductive threads attached to two of the cheongsams worn by mannequins during the exhibition, visitors could listen to love letters dedicated to these cheongsams.
In another interactive textile landscape installation, called Pulse, audiences experienced digital interpretations of urban landscapes and interacted with colourful visualisation projections through sound and voice (Figure 4). The installation created a playful, tactile playground to explore the influence of digital technology and media in today’s world.
A stitch in the right direction
Moving forward, my research will continue to encompass themes such as technology, fashion and biodesign, and focus on two of NTU’s key research thrusts—Healthy Society and Sustainable Earth.
My work also aims to create awareness about specific groups of people in society, such as differently-challenged people. By developing applications, designs and platforms, I help to enable them to work with global and local professionals, models and designers.
Finally, I am working on new textile interfaces capable of embedding smart data monitoring systems and technologies, including wireless wearable sensors, data cloud and artificial intelligence capabilities. The cross-disciplinary project is funded by an NTU-awarded Accelerating Creativity and Excellence (ACE) research grant in collaboration with the Data Science & Artificial Intelligence Research Centre @ NTU (DSAIR) and the Singtel Cognitive and Artificial Intelligence Lab for Enterprises (SCALE@NTU).