DIGITAL CRAFT / collective quilt

Interface: membrane or screen,           
the place where contact between           
two entities occurs.”         
Alan Kay, 1972           


In first place this project intends to explore the physicality of interfaces as surfaces of communication and self expression.
Drawing on the Lansdown model, this artwork intends to use technology both as a tool and a medium.
The aim is to create an immersive experience both physically and cognitively qualitative.
Focusing on the process rather than the final object, this installation piece wishes to encourage the visitor to participate actively to the artwork, interacting both with the ‘membrane’ and the other visitors of the gallery.
The framework of the artwork is carefully designed,nevertheless, it has an open interactive potential.
Better explained, the artwork creates two separate stages and only if at least  two visitors participate at the same time and decide to share their point of view with the other, they can fully grasp the piece.
    Secondly, this project intends to integrate Art and Design fields, informing one practice with concepts borrowed from the other and vice-versa, stressing on the field of Textiles and Craft.
 I aim at re-contextualising traditional craft in the contemporary frame of ‘digital craft’, envisioning generative production methods for innovative design practices.
The folklorist technique of quilting and patch-working are digitally reproduced in the piece, the haptic qualities of the material transposed to the interface.
The rituals related to the traditional crafts are here re-interpreted.
The requirement of dialogue between visitors in order to understand the artwork  represents the transmission of experience between generations and the collective production of folk art.
The ‘fabrication’ of the quilt becomes generative, the surface animates,  changing continuously depending on the different approach of each visitor to the interface.
The installation also draws on the idea of two faces of a quilt, where the hand-stitching work is hidden, being at the same time the only key in the understanding of the process of production.

Influential to the development of this concept have been the Quilt exhibition at V&A Museum in 2010 as well as the work of Ernesto Neto, whom has always used stretchy materials to deform space and create immersive haptic experiences.

As previously mentioned, the installation is divided in two stages.
First the visitor enters a space where a rigid frame covered by a tense lycra fabric hangs from the ceiling and creates a membrane. A wii remote controller is embedded in the fabric, it is used both to activate the system when detecting motion on the surface and to send values. A camera recording the visitor in the interactive process is placed on the side of the membrane, perpendicular to the framed fabric.
In perspective the fabric is seen as a straight line when still, this line splits in two symmetrical parts the video input.
The part of the video recording the visitor in front of the fabric is used to produce visual effects, whereas the part of the video recording the other side of the fabric is used to sample sound. As the material used is a stretchy lycra-nylon fabric,  the touch of the visitor easily deforms the surface, but not the frame. The sound of a sewing machine  is sampled in response to the deformation.
On the other side of the lycra wall, a video output is projected. Here viewers that participated in the previous stage can now see the quilt generated by the interactive process.
In fact, the video input is processed in Max Msp to create different textures. A random combination of textures is applied to meshes resembling a digital patchwork created in Open Gl. Each mesh creates a different element on screen, each element is independent but contributes in concordance with the rest of the elements to the final effect. The acceleration values on the x, and z axis received by the wiiremote influence the rotation and the number of facets of the meshes, adding further personalisation to the result.
Finally, when the wiimote values stabilise, meaning that the person left the room and joined the other visitors at the other side of the membrane, the video returns to a version of the meshes emptied of the textures and auto-coloured.

When I first started to develop the patch I didn’t feel comfortable to work with Max.
Despite my initial hesitation, I am satisfied with my progression in the understanding of the IDE and the logic behind each operation.
I successfully realised the steps I had originally in mind.
However, having built physically the prototype of the interface to test the idea, I realised that in case of an exhibition, I should build a wooden structure, more stable and reliable.
The fabric used is also too transparent and needs either a further layer, either to be replaced with a thicker one. The hypothetical space of the exhibition should separate the two spaces with walls, the first room should be lighted while the second room should be dark for the projection.
A limitation in my project is certainly the poor implementation of audio in comparison to the visuals.
Coming from a Print design background I am naturally more interested to experiment with images rather than with sounds.
I also noticed that the part of the video to which the effects are applied is heavily influenced by the corresponding  wall. As the final quilt rendered is quite abstract and colours play an important part in it,  I should maybe consider to paint that wall with different colours, or to think of another way to process the video. However, I like the fact that the person is not recognisable in the final quilt, and that the whole piece is an abstraction both of the video and the values of the wii.

To complete the experience, I would like to develop an application that sends a screenshot of each interaction to a website where the images would compose the "collective" quilt.

The concept of personalisation is quite important as well. In some cultures the tiles of the quilt represent scenes of important moments in life of people belonging to the community.
I could stress on the communitarian and almost site-specific aspect of this traditional craft and involve people in the collection of images related to the area of the exhibition that could then be integrated in the installation.

The patch is the result of personal work. However, I must reference the lectures of Bruno Zamborlin, that helped me to understand how to use OSC messages.
I also looked at the effects listed in the tutorials written by Peter Elsa.
The rest of the patch has been developed with the help of the references and help patches of Max 6.


To follow the whole process of this project pleas visit the related blog.
There is further documentation, videos, inspiration, links.