Captain Electric and Battery Boy

Joanna Berzowska

Joanna is Assistant Professor of Design and Computation Arts at Concordia University in Montreal. She received her Masters of Science from MIT for her work titled “Computational Expressionism.” She holds a BA in Pure Mathematics and a BFA in Design Arts. She is the founder of XS Labs (Extra Soft) in Montreal, a design research studio with a focus on innovation in the fields of electronic textiles and reactive garments: “second skins” that can enable computationally-mediated interactions with the environment and the individual.

We are equally inspired by the technical and cultural history of how textiles have been made for generations (weaving, stitching, embroidery, knitting, beading, quilting) and by new and emerging materials with different electro-mechanical properties. This enables us to construct complex textile-based surfaces, substrates, and structures with “transitive” properties. We have initiated a couple of efforts in India and Ethiopia together with the World Bank and several NGOs, looking at how local knowledge and skills that used to be supported by the textile industries can now be deployed in some of these new technologies. Our garments move and shift on the body in somewhat violent and perverse ways, and they hurt, or reveal things, record you or others and then reveal that. We see this as our artistic component of the research – asking these kinds of irreverent questions about technology.

A lot of our research goes into “textiles as magical companions.” This is where questions of functionality come in. Conductive yarn for instance can be something like cotton with some kind of metallic particles, which is interesting for our applications, but also a recycling nightmare. Smart textiles are often presented like the great big hope for the future. The idea is that people in the long run will only buy one garment for a season, ignoring the fact that electronic devices are also designed for obsolescence. Considering textiles as power-delivering structures, we looked at several ways of attracting attention to our increasing energy use and how that might influence our personal health and our environment. To cope with our constantly increasing power requirements there are three main approaches in the design community. One is to focus on eco-design and sustainability and consume less power. The second is to look at other ways of generating power than using batteries, which is not a field that is developing rapidly at all. Thirdly, people have started looking at the human body as a source of power, or parasitic power. This can be active power generation, such as cycling, or passive power generation exploiting the kinds of things we already do naturally with our bodies. Both active and passive power generation however are very inefficient and don’t generate a lot of energy. But they are important to look at as ways to monitor our energy use and make it more tangible.

“Captain Electric and Battery Boy” is the code name for a collection of garments that directly address issues of power consumption and sustainability by creating body-worn, textile-based “living organisms.” I think there is a perfect fit between power generation and the history of fashion, as they both have been developing through stages of discomfort and pain, both for women and men across history and different cultures. Why do we desire things that are uncomfortable? Why do we like a little pain? Responding to the need to address long-term sustainability in new technology development we work on both passively harnessing energy directly from the body and actively allowing for power generation by the user. Depending on levels of discomfort and extenuation, as well as the desire to supersede the limitations of the human body, the garments produce varying amounts of energy to fuel themselves.

“Constellation Dresses and The Leeches: Questions of power for electronic garments,” by Joanna Berzowska

“Constellation Dresses and the Leeches” raises specific questions regarding our increasing need for power – electric energy – in order to feed the electronic devices that we wear on our bodies and will soon be integrating into our electronic garments.

Kukkia and Vilkas are the first XS Labs experiments in developing kinetic electronic garments, within the context of fashion and personal expression. We have integrated the shape memory alloy Nitinol in textile substrates to create two animated dresses that move or change shape over time, using resistive heating and control electronics.

SKORPIONS are a set of kinetic electronic garments that move and change on the body in slow, organic motions. They have anthropomorphic qualities and can be imagined as parasites that inhabit the skin of the host.

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  • Last modified: 2010-02-06 04:18
  • by alkan