Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Growing garments

A while ago I had this idea for a project; evolutionary jewellery that would physically grow alongside you, according to your unconscious behaviour, hence starting to reflect your true identity in an intimate and transformative coupling to the body. There happen to be some explorations that come really close to this idea.

Check out the picture above. It is one of the photographic results of the explorative freestyle cooperation between Lucy McRae and Bart Hess, both colleagues of mine at Philips Design. This work is great because it makes us ready to accept a new world, where man gets technologized not only his brain, but also his body, so it becomes fully transformable. Humanity should lose its attachment to the archetypical human body, as it might well be outdated and undesirable soon, or at least fill only a small niche in a highly complex and dynamic technological environment. Our physical body will soon be a part of us that we can easily explore with, just like we can change our bodies in the virtual world by simply setting another picture as your avatar. I imagine one day our hybrid bodies will be almost fully controllable, so we can shape shift limitlessly. Until we realize that the shape shifting is mostly pointless, and want consistency again, most probably. 

After this rambling, back to Lucy and Bart again. What is interesting is that they planted grass seeds inside the sacks, and watered them day after day. After eight days, this is what it looked like:

Visually stunning, of course. But again, what makes this interesting is the idea that our bodies can in the future not just grow based on our physical experiences and genetic blueprint, but also as a response to emotional experiences or mental transformations. Our biological bodies change so slowly, especially in this age of information, where we click through page after page as if we were mere switches, catalysers in a self-sustaining digital realm, that it seems it is not coupled to our lives anymore. If we put the value of our body back into the picture by having it speak to us with a dynamic we can understand and feel as one with, we might start to listen to it again and couple it to our mental developments, too. Where now we lost much of the subtlety to derive information about people from subtle cues like wrinkles, in the future these cues can be greatly enhanced and diverse.

A similar project is by Donna Franklin, a fashion designer from London, who did experiments with growing funghi on a wearable piece of textile. A result of these explorations was a dress that had a fungus growing from it. This is aesthetically more subtle and rich, but also more conventional than Lucy and Bart's, i'd say. And still, these projects are not coupled to a functionality; they are merely decorative pieces.

Instead of completely biological materials that grow, I'd like to see technological developments that humans can more directly and socially influence. Nanotechnology is a way to go here; in the far future it might be possible to develop what John Hall calls 'Foglets' or 'Utility Fog', so our bodies become hybrids between biologically and nano-technologically emerged material, the latter being able to quickly transform us, guide us, and empathize deeply with us. 

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