An Interactive Textile Installation
The installation grew out of previous work that Kärt and Eszter had done that focused on interactive textiles in the form of thermochromically coated felt. Using imbedded nichrome heating wires powered by an Arduino microcontroller, patterns could be made to slowly emerge from the felt’s surface. These previous projects were usually touch activated.
Being given the opportunity to work with Issey Miyake’s flagship space we began thinking about how we could use the thermochromic technique in a way that wouldn’t be overpowered by Gehry’s titanium ribbons that intersect the space. The objects that Kärt and Eszter had worked on were very personal, slow, and subdued experiences. The installation at Issey needed to be faster and bolder. We decided that a modular approach would give us the most flexibility; allowing us to configure and reconfigure the installation as needed on site. This also felt at home with some of Issey’s brands like their 132 5 line and Bao Bao. The color, a vibrant cobalt blue, began to emerge while thinking about how the space would feel in the Spring (we started this project in Sept. 2011). After seeing some images of Issey’s Spring / Summer collection we knew that something blue was probably our direction. I love Japanese textiles and started thinking about the traditional tie-dying technique called “shibori” which typically has white resist lines with a deep indigo blue dye. It felt like the repetitive / modular patterns in shibori came alive with totally new technology.
While Kärt and Eszter had used hexagonal patterns before as well as Voronoi patterns, we began experimenting with geometric patterns that could be overlaid and integrated with the hexagons to create a new layer of illusion. The rotated cube-like pattern made a lot of sense. After failing to come up with a fitting name we stumbled upon a wikipedia entry on volumetric pixels, also known as Voxels.
The main installation consisted of 68 active “voxels” which users can interact with using any mobile device by creating patterns on a web app and submitting them. The patterns quickly emerge from the blue hexagons as a single image or animated sequence.
We spent a great deal of time finding the right material combination that would allow images to appear and disappear fast enough for the system to function interactively. When working with thermochromic ink in this way it’s often easy to introduce enough heat to make a color change but getting rid of the heat, effectively resetting the state becomes a new problem. We eventually found that a coated silk outer layer with a poly-felt core provided the best transition time, between 8 and 16 seconds, not the 100 frames per second that many gamers enjoy, but a major speed up from the original natural felt systems.
The installation enjoyed a well attended private opening sponsored by Surface magazine.
Special thanks to: Robert Samsel von Leszczynski for making this project happen, Tom Igoe, Yoni Ben Simhon, Johnny Lu, and Stepan Boltalin for making things work with minutes to spare
Some additional images documenting our process and physical fabrication: