Hexagram, The Institute for Research and Creation by J Penney Burton PDF  | Print |  E-mail

hexgram logo   The Institute for Research and Creation in Media Arts and Technologies is a cutting-edge organization formed in 2001, focusing on technological advancement in the arts which involves researchers and graduate students from different departments at Concordia University, University of Quebec at Montreal and University of Montreal.[1]  The Interactive Textiles and Wearable computer axes of Hexagram conducts research and utilizes new technologies in the construction of textile items and clothing, using digital and electronic equipment and materials in the textile creation process, often embedding this technology right into the cloth.   As well as providing access to a Jacquard loom, a large Mimaki printer and high-tech digital embroidery machines, subTela studio, run by Barbara Layne, and The Institute of Everyday Life, headed by Ingrid Bachmann are affiliated with the Concordia Fibres Department, and both studios employ undergraduate and/or graduate fibres students.  I recently had the opportunity to connect with both Barbara and Ingrid in order to learn more about their studios, and to ponder the future of fibres.[2]

[1] The Hexagram website is located at: http://hexagram.org/spip.php?page=home&lang=en&sid=0 [accessed September 2, 2007], and provided information for this profile.

[2] All quotes are taken verbatim from interviews with Layne and Bachmann.   Information from Layne was provided in an email interview with the author, August 26, 2007.  Information from Bachmann was provided through a personal interview July 27, 2007 and an email interview September 8, 2007 with the author.

 subTela Studio

Jacket Antics (2007),Barbara Layne and subTela Studio, Linen yarns, conductive silver threads and electronic components,(Hand woven using modified twill structure)
Photo Credit:  Hesam Khoshneviss

Barbara Layne has headed the subTela studio for over five years now.  She originally became interested in weaving a diagram of a circuit board into fabric.  This led to the incorporation of LED’s (light emitting diodes) directly into the woven cloth, and eventually to the development of what she terms “complex intelligent fabrics with interactive capabilities.”  She goes on to describe the making of the work her lab undertakes now, explaining “to make interactive garments and wall hangings, natural materials are woven in alongside microcomputers and sensors to create surfaces that are receptive and responsive to external stimuli.  We have developed a soft display of LED’s that present changing patterns and texts through the structure of cloth.  Wireless transmission systems support real time communication, and fabrics sense the presence of other fabrics or the proximity of viewers. In both wearable systems and site related installations, textiles are used to address the social dynamic of fabric and human interaction.”  Jacket Antics pictured both above and below, demonstrate the final result of these complex processes.  


jacket getails

  Jacket Antics (2007) detail Barbara Layne and subTela Studio, Linen yarns, conductive silver threads and electronic components,(Hand woven using modified twill structure)

Photo Credit:  Hesam Khoshneviss

Several jackets have been made which scroll different messages, some of which interact with each other when physical contact takes place between those who wear them. 

subTela studios have also created interactive wall hangings, which interact with the body heat and movement of the viewer.  International collaborations have taken place with Yacov Sharir, a choreographer/dancer from Texas, and with Janis Jefferies and the Digital Studios, Goldsmiths College, London, England, which investigate relationships between those who wear the “smart” garments, and responses to internal or external stimuli.  Layne describes the possible use for these specialized fabrics “the applications for smart textile are quite diverse and are being developed by the military, in scientific laboratories, through industrial research and development areas, and in art and design studios.  I just returned from TechTextil, an enormous textile trade fair in Frankfurt Germany where I saw many companies displaying new conductive fabrics, prototypes of electronic garments, and the formation of new companies who bring together well-known garment manufacturers with engineers and designers for commercial development, all promising a future full of smart textiles.” 

subTela employs four to five graduate students a year, from the Fine Arts and Engineering Departments at Concordia University and McGill University, whom have expertise in textile techniques and/or electronic and circuit design.  Layne comments on the role of the artist as researcher, stating “the most interesting advances in smart textiles are being done by a new genre of artists-designer-engineer-programmers:  people who have strong expertise in one area and have also learned skills in complementary fields.  They are driven less by commercial interests and more by an intense curiosity about the relations between textile and social interaction, and the disruption of traditional computer science and engineering approaches.  Creative artist-researchers form interdisciplinary teams that often include engineers and computer programmers:  the key is in being able to develop a common language, understanding of the limits of the various approaches, and being willing to push those parameters into new configurations.”  The high profile of Hexagram and its researchers internationally, as well as the collaborative projects being done with researchers all over the world, demonstrate the high level of their success.

With regards to where the discipline is heading, Layne writes “the future of Fibres lies not only in the area of intelligent fabrics.  As a revolutionary artistic practice, the textile arts will continue to develop with the times.  New materials and processes will evolve in relation to changing political and cultural issues.  Textiles have significant relationships to the critical issues of the future: recycling and ecology, climate change, etc.  Ancient techniques will be revisited and adapted to contemporary Fibre practices as globalization furthers the exchange of ideas and economies on an international scale.  Fibres will thrive not because it is a well-established or perfectly defined discipline, but because it is diverse, transformative and interdisciplinary, with the ability to connect to every day living.”

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