What happens when you let two people, from two different design backgrounds just experiment, research and see what happens? You have COMPUTER 1.0, a collaborative installation from textile artist and educator, Victoria Manganiello and industrial designer and BF+DA TEK-TILES alumnus, Julian Goldman exploring the industrial revolution’s impact on textiles, tech and even future societies being built now.
According to Goldman, Computer 1.0 reminds its onlookers that society has been grappling with digital existentialism and the uncertain potential of technology with the overarching question, how does all of this make our lives better?
A textile woven with polymer tubing programmed to pump synthetic dye through itself in coded patterns, COMPUTER 1.0 explores the history of the computer and its connection to the loom as well as the (dys)utopias of a technological world. Because this history is all but forgotten in our understanding of humanity’s digital maturation, the project seeks to pay homage to the forbearers of computer history.
“The combination of artist and designer is a wonderful thing. Add an engineer into the mix and you have something really special. There are different approaches and perspectives that come to the table and this mashup can create exponential thought progress,” says Goldman.
“When Victoria and I first sat down, we went straight to concept – what do we want to talk about. But then what is ‘the thing?’ I brought a pallette of electronics, sensors, actuators, lights, heating wires, and wires that change shape, but it was a bit of tubing I had in my backpack for altogether different reasons that first got woven in to a swatch, and when we blew dye through it, it looked great. We kept seeing and finding interesting new and beautiful effects we could create in this way and we could easily envision where we wanted to take it. And right now we are maybe halfway there,” says Goldman.
Goldman and Manganiello’s work echoes early crossovers in tech and textiles developed in 1801 by master silk weaver, Joseph Marie Jacquard. Jacquard’s loom ran what we now understand as a ‘program’ to create detailed and elaborate textiles without painstaking manual labor and was the first machine capable of automated task production, and the first known use of binary code. Though Jacquard’s loom performed a task we take for granted in its simplicity today, the technology eventually led to the groundbreaking work of inventors Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, and Alan Turing.
Fast forward to 2018 and Google and Levi’s Commuter Trucker Jacket inspired by early 19th-century looms that first used digital punchcards to program complex patterns. The project’s central innovation is a conductive yarn tough enough for industrial weaving and the threads can connect to Bluechip.
“One of the peculiar things about the Google/Levi’s collaboration is that the denim itself was not created on a Jacquard loom. It is a simple twill, woven on a more basic industrial loom and the garment construction isn’t all that modern. The electronic/computational component which allows wearers to interact with their smartphones by physical interactions with their garment, is what really gives this garment the Jacquard name,” says Manganiello.
Manganiello adds that the Jacquard loom hasn’t changed all that much since the 19th century except to become much faster and more efficient.
“The industrial looms making our clothes in factories around the world resemble those original constructions very closely. So while the looms themselves haven’t transformed all that much from the original designs, its lineage has drastically altered our world in two respects: cheap and plentiful clothing seen now as the fast fashion industry that is taking over our planet, and cheap and plentiful computers descended from the Jacquard loom.”
With this project, can we look at COMPUTER 1.0 as holding together the framework of where we’ve been and what the future might hold in terms of textiles and technology?
“We see this exact line of logic being talked through quite a lot. What will we do when automation takes our jobs? In creative fields we often feel a bit safer as there is this assumption that there is something about being human-made that makes it more attractive and interesting to other humans, but then we see that some of the first applications for AI or deep learning programs is to attempt to create art,” says Manganiello, “The applications that will have real and lasting impact on our society are going to be much more boring on the face and hence they’re revolution will be more insipid.”
As to the question of whether this will possibly lead to worker revolt as per the Luddites during the Industrial Revolution’s early days both Goldman and Manganiello aren’t willing to fully commit to the scenario being played out.
“Futurists who make predictions on the utopian end of the spectrum paint pictures of people relieved from daily drudgery now free to focus on higher level intellectual and creative pursuits – doing only that which we want to. Predictions on the dystopian side point towards assumptions of an inherent need to work, to add to society, and the corollary that taking away this role for people will result in disillusionment and revolution. We would argue that every time we find ourselves at a moment where we are making these types of predictions, we almost always end up somewhere in between. The reality becomes more complicated than was predictable, some are hurt and others are helped and when levels of happiness or contentedness are all that really matters in the end, very little has changed.”