Wearable tech has officially spawned touchable art.
Visitors to a new Paris exhibition showcasing Jacquard by Google’s conductible yarns are encouraged to fondle tapestries, tread on textile pads and put their hands on textured columns, which activates lights, sounds and — organizers hope — wonderment.
“Hopefully it will show the magic of technology,” said Pamela Golbin, the fashion historian and curator tapped as artistic director of the artist residency program that spawned the showcase, opening on the eve of the Fiac International Contemporary Art Fair. “It’s about how to embrace the possibilities of what technology can bring to our lives, that’s what’s fantastic.”
Jacquard yarns have already found their way into Levi’s Commuter Trucker Jacket and, more recently, Saint Laurent’s Cit-e backpack with a touch area in the straps that allow the wearer to control music, drop pins and take pictures.
Google’s Dan Kaufman, senior director of engineering and head of advanced technology and products, hinted that more wearable tech would be coming on stream in the next few months, while declining to identify the brand partners.
At a press conference to open the artistic display at Le Mobilier National, the French entity that administers state furniture, Kaufman stressed that “technology is the most powerful when it disappears and it adds a little bit of magic to your life.”
For example, he said the group that created the Levi’s jacket put its technological capabilities — controlling services such as music and maps with swipes and taps to touch-enabled areas on the sleeve — low on the list of priorities. “Since it was a jacket, it was most important that it should keep you warm. Number two, it should look really good. Nobody should know it’s smart but you.”
The exhibition, titled “Please Touch the Thread,” runs through Oct. 20. Golbin and her judging panel selected three artists out of more than 200 contenders.
The residency, Golbin said, was conceived to “push the limits of what the technology can do, because the limitations actually come from us. It’s our imagination that sets the boundaries, so how to push those imaginations? We immediately wanted to work with artists and not fashion designers, who themselves are constrained by the human body and by commercial needs.”
Chloé Bensahel, a textile artist by trade, created seven white tapestries that activate lights and sounds — plus hidden words — when they are touched, pressed or stroked.
“It’s performance embedded in textiles,” Bensahel said. “I think [the technology] has big potential in textile products and especially in interiors. It also creates a different relationship with artworks.”
Golbin noted that all of the works “need the human touch. Without the human hand, technology doesn’t do anything.”
South Korea’s OMA Space, a creative studio composed of Jang Jiu, Daniel Kapelian and Gil Kyoung-young, created the most elaborate installation, housed in a spiral of navy curtains. It requires visitors to doff shoes, don headphones and navigate a dimly lit path of fabric “stones” that start off scratchy and end up squishy, with different electronic sounds for each texture.
All three artists incorporate sound, with Mexican artist Amor Muñoz drawing a link between Joseph Marie Jacquard, the Frenchman who invented a programmable loom employing punch cards in the early 1800s, player pianos and early computers. Muñoz had artisans pleat the smart Jacquard fabrics in zigzags, tufts and folds, each emitting a different music when visitors approach them and touch them.
Google said the works may circulate to other art fairs in future after the Paris debut. The Jacquard yarns were invented by Dr. Ivan Poupyrev in 2014. He is to receive a National Design Award later this week from the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.