Distance is a kinetic wearable installation expressing a person’s physiological activity when meeting a stranger. This project uses three physical shell shape objects to exaggerate such reactions by covering the wearer’s face. Each object has its own framework and moving patterns unlike the rest representing different personalities.
I believe an artwork should be an expression of beauty at first glance regardless of what concept it attempts to convey, which medium it appears in, or what kind of technique the artist used. During the process that a viewer explores this artwork, personal feelings and sympathies are anticipated to be revealed gradually. There are two directions I have been eagerly pursuing in the art domain. Firstly, the idea of a project is ingenious. It is not supposed to be a giant blueprint that can only be accomplished by masters, while it can be a simple and common idea which is not noticed by many people. Secondly, the project should reflect a professional level of skill.
Through this thesis project, I would like to practice what I advocate and challenge myself . Thus, I selected an entirely new realm, fashion design, to interpret one of the most common activities in our daily life which is meeting strangers. Clothing serves as protection, maintains the wearer’s body temperature, and is also a decoration of the wearer’s body, a sign of the wearer’s faith, personality, gender and age. In this project, I used a movable object secured on the wearer’s shoulders to expand the reactions when meeting a stranger.
Andrea Vander Kooij, Garments for Forced Intimacy
I was impressed at the first sight of Andrea’s Garments for Forced Intimacy. She knitted wool yarn to make multiple head-gears for two people. Each one was a pair of connected single face masks, which can be worn by two people simultaneously.
The material she chose is usually used to keep wearers’ body temperature in cold weather, as a result it expressed a feeling of warmth. The good elasticity of wool yarn and the knitting technique she applied provided the scalability of this artwork. Such features let two wearers can stay in various distance and show their relationship.
I got inspiration from this project which was that a garment could demonstrate people’s relationship. Unlike the relationship in this project, intimacy, I chose strangeness as the key feeling in my thesis work.
Philips Design, SKIN Probe
The team who created this prototype explored technologies towards sensitive rather than intelligent direction. In this case, fashion was used as a medium responding to the wearer’s body and to visually express this person’s emotion. People were emphasized very much in this project. The flash and flowing lights were messages sent by the individual who wore it.
As an obscure way of communication, there might be two results. One is that the viewer could interpret it correctly, and give appropriate feedback. However, since it is a one way expression, it might not serve the wearer’s needs. I learnt from this project, and in my thesis I used multiple states of one garment to express the wearer’s psychological activities, furthermore, those different states of the fashion object could satisfy the wearer’s need for privacy.
Hussein Chalayan, 2007 SS One Hundred and Eleven
In this cat walk show, models wore a series of kinetic clothes in which a long dress morphed into a short skirt and a white dress changed to a black one. Those changes were dramatic and beautiful. Such movements gave the clothes more expression.
I did research on the mechanism of this project and found out that a large amount of wires, tiny motors and hollow tubes were embedded beneath the clothes. Mono-filament wires were connected to geared motors and the outer layer of the garment to alter its shape. In my thesis, considering the limited time and ability, I put only one movement into one object. However, by controlling each one’s speed and moving direction, I could express different personalities without changing their structures.
Anouk Wipprecht, Spider Dress
Six animated robotic limbs were secured on the wearer’s shoulders. They moved so naturally that seemed like they were alive and had their own consciousness. The model’s dress was black matching those limbs, and the color theme of the documentation video was also dark which made this robotic dress even more mysterious.
I noticed there was a bag near the wears’ pelvis. It might be a container for batteries and its micro-controller. The same as this project, my work also needed to be portable and powered. Thus I decided to sew a small bag fastened on the wearer’s leg by straps.
In the physical social environment, there is an invisible surrounding area named personal space which was introduced by anthropologist Edward T. Hall. In his theory the surrounding area can be divided into 4 different circles. The largest circle, public space, is a distance further than 12 feet (7.6m), and is used for large audience conversation such as lectures and speeches. The second one called social space ranging from 4 to 12 feet (1.2m – 3.6m) away from the person and is usually occupied by social activities happened with strangers. For example, walking on a relatively not crowd sidewalk, people are tend to avoid standing with a stranger side by side, and prepare passing a stranger in advance. The third space is personal space where most people have conversations with friends, family members or colleagues. It starts around 1.5 feet (45cm) from the person and ends about 4 feet (122cm) away, and the upper limit is also the trigger distance of this Distance project. The last space is intimate space closer than 1.5 feet serving for close friends, family members and lovers.
There are three individual pieces in this project. All of them are hood-like objects fastened by a pair of containers with straps on wearers’ shoulders against wearers’ chests or backs. All of them stay still if there is no one standing inside the personal space of them. When a viewer approaches the installations, they start rotating in different paces.
Once the first installation detects a viewer entering its personal space (4ft), it rotates and covers the wearer’s face immediately. It waits several seconds, then lifts itself a little bit to confirm whether there is still a person or not. If there is nobody, it gradually rotates backwards, otherwise it covers the wearer’s face again without any hesitation, in addition the interval of the second time to lift will be increased. During the process that it collapses, if somebody approaches it, it behaves the same as described above except resetting its interval waiting time. This personality lives inside of his or her own world and always refuses to establish relationships with others.
The same as the first one, it starts moving when a stranger is standing inside of its personal space. However, instead of fully lifting, it rotates based on the distance between the stranger and itself. The closer the viewer stands the more completely it closes itself. And if the viewer leaves away from it, it opens gradually. This object reacts friendly, though keeps distance.
This one is a combination of the first and second personality. Although it reacts instantly once a person stands in front of it, if the person does not approaches any more it opens itself step by step. This personality reserved at first, but gradually opens up.
Iron wire prototype
I used iron wire as the frame material of the first prototype.
The purpose of this prototype was figuring out how long of each framework, how many frameworks and how much fabric did this project need.
In terms of motors, I chose 180 degree servo motor, because I needed this motor to rotate to a certain angle related to the input data. A DC motor could only work with an indicator. And a stepper motor needed to be initialized frequently, otherwise a small dislocation might become larger as it works.
I needed shaped frameworks to support the whole installation. The features of the frameworks should include light weight, good strength, thin and easy to be processed. I came up with several options: wood, aluminum and acrylic.
I had access to a laser cutter which is an ideal tool cutting solid wood sheet. Since each frame should be a certain shape, cutting from a piece of wood sheet would waste tons of materials because there was no way for me to bend a straight piece of wood to an arc.
After giving up wood I tried forming aluminum bar. The advantage of aluminum is that it is ductile and easily machined. While without professional tools forming two aluminum bars into the same shape was extremely difficult.
Finally I used acrylic bars. 1cm * 0.5 cm * 72 inch acrylic bars were existing products I could buy from plastic stores. In my first demo, I simply cut one bar into two pieces and had them punctured at two ends by a drill. The melting point of acrylic is 320°F which is a temperature can be easily reached by a heat gun. Using this advantage, I prepared a wood mold with a certain shape slit on it cut by a laser cutter, put an acrylic bar into the slit and heated it. After it cooled down, an acrylic bar would stay in the new shape.
The personality of the first one is simple. No matter how a stranger behaves, as long as this person appears inside of its personal space, it isolates itself. The simplest shape, circle, and one piece structure can represent such a mind set well and looks like a round shield or shell protecting itself from being disturbed or getting hurt.
The second one has two pieces in which one moving backward and one moving forward. The low speed and curved frameworks convey the same meaning that this one is friendly. While after closing itself, two parts covering the wearer’s upper body completely like armor express that it is not easy to be get close to.
The third one is the most complex one both in its shape and its movements. It tries to protect itself first, then obverses the stranger’s reaction, hesitates, then tentatively opens partially but always prepares to close. A polygon has multiple sides representing complex thinking process and sophisticated personalities.
For all of them I made matching shoulder containers the same shape as the objects. Since these components were inevitable, transforming them into fashion elements could not only maintain the function but also integrate with the existing installations.
Normally there were two ways to lift this shell structure. Firstly, apply force at the center of the first frame. Secondly, apply force at the connecting point of the first frame.
Both of them required fabric pulling the rest frames one by one. As it drained a lot of energy, and finally this artwork should be powered by batteries, the usage of power was a big concern. The first method used energy efficiently. However, the downside was the need of an extra holder for the motor which I could not achieve without breaking the simplicity of the installation. At this point, finding a high torque motor and appropriate battery was essential. The result was good, 17kg/cm metal geared head servo motors and 2000mAh 6V rechargeable batteries were found at a reasonable price.
The motor needed to be sealed completely into the shoulder container and only its geared head was exposed and connected with frameworks. Since each frame should circle the connection point, 10 pieces of acrylic bar could end up with a 5cm width conjunction.
In order to reduce the size, increase its stability and save energy, I attached a piece of metal plate at the end of each acrylic bar. A 1mm thick metal plate could provide the same strength of a much thicker acrylic, as a result it would greatly shrink the width while keeping and even increasing the stability. Because the metal plate was much thinner than the acrylic bar, by calculating the length of these plates when they collapsed, the frameworks could not be overlapped instead they stacked one on the top of the other and formed a quarter of a sphere.
This structure went that the frame needed no power to lift itself under the open state and provided a wide angle range during the closing process.
I used paper to build prototypes for this project and found the result was attractive. For the actual project although I insisted on using fabric, I wanted to make the appearance similar to paper. The reason I chose fabric was that fabric was more durable than paper and comfortable for people who wear them. However I noticed that it was impossible for me to use fabric to possess paper’s feature. Thus I explored different types of fabric and picked the most common muslin cloth as my starting point. It not only was easy to be cut and sewed by a beginner like me, but also maintained its shape under a relatively large force. But the disadvantage was obvious as well. It creased very easily. I tried using silk to replace it, however I could not deal with its edge.
After visiting many fabric stores and actually touching different materials, Ponte-de-Roma double knitting fabric was the one I chose. Because it used double knitting technique, two sides of the fabric was the same which decreased mistakes I might make during the sewing process. The weight of this fabric was just perfect to this work, as it was not too heavy to be lifted and it was not too light that could not create a nice curved shape. It was very difficult to be wrinkled even if pinched by fingers.
I wanted to make this project clean and beautiful, thus any rough edge could not remain in the final work. There were many ways to connect two pieces of fabric and make a tunnel at the seam. I chose a way that can cover the piecing edge without professional skills. Firstly each piece of fabric should be cut in a shuttle shape, because the surface of the object was a sphere. Secondly I polished two ends of those fabric sheets. Then put one piece on the top of the other one back to back. I directly sewed them together with a narrow edge. And flipped two pieces of fabric together and sewed them again apart from the last seam 1cm to ensure an acrylic bar could be inserted.
I would like to use movements and shape to express my concept in this project, thus I removed color element which might distract viewers’ attentions. Whether the garments are under spot lights or the natural sunlight, shadows on a light color surface can be captured by eyes easily. And the moving shadow can help viewers understand the movements of these installations from any perspective. Therefore in gray scale, I chose white to make these objects and put black on mannequins and performers’ body.
I set three spot lights pointing each one from the ceiling, plus the sunshine shone through French windows of the gallery, as a result there were two lighting sources. Warm orange color brought by the spot light and cool blue color, filtered sunshine, added time based changeable colors to this project which was positive surprise beyond my plan.