Critical Approaches to Culture + Communications

A Weblog by Ron Burnett (Founded in 1994 and now celebrating 23 Years!!)

This site began as one of the first academic sites in Canada when the World Wide Web was in its early phase of development. I have maintained it through many iterations since 1994.

Object Connections (Part 1)

by Hélène Day Fraser

(This is the second in a series of research projects being developed by Graduate Students at Emily Carr Institute.)

In a time when we are increasingly reliant on the internet and virtual technologies there is a greater need for objects that have a heightened physical sensibility and act as markers of our memories and personal experience. Objects, which make us aware of themselves and allow us to attach memories to them, provide us an opportunity to become grounded in something lasting (Schouwenberg).

My work as an industrial design student within the newly formed Masters of Applied Art program at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design is focused on the study of everyday objects and their current and future roles in personal environments. My intention is to first explore, through ethnographic observation and qualitative analysis, the way in which people view and interact with the objects they surround themselves with. I will then develop, through a material based process, objects of beauty designed to last, anchor memories, and have a positive impact on individuals and their environment.

North American culture is based on a fast paced, sound bitten, speed driven, virtual, disposable landscape. Recognition of the problematic nature of the culture we currently inhabit has led to calls for sustainable solutions for the well-being of society and the environment. Proponents of sustainability are looking to the concept of ‘slow design’ as a way of reassessing our priorities. This concept, initially mapped out by Alastair Fuad-Luke, is one which sees design as a “counterbalance to the speed of the current industrial and consumer design paradigm��? and looks to the “long view��? and “celebration of slowness, diversity and pluralism��? (Fuad-Luke, slow) as means of transforming our “current materialistic and consumer vision of the world��? (Fuad-Luke, Slow Theory 2.0).

Maurice Merleau-Ponty stated that connectedness through sensory contact to tangible physical objects accords us purpose (Schouwenberg). Physical surroundings have long worked in tandem with the spaces we occupy in our heads (memories, daydreaming). In today’s society, which is marked by Global mobility, many people have to contend with leaving their homes and friends behind. It has become increasingly important for objects to carry a sense of home, for objects to endure and offer a tactile connection which is significant to an individual’s sense of self.

My background and training is within the fashion industry. This field of design is markedly different from other disciplines of design. Its methodology is based very much on a tactile understanding of the materials used. Designers trained in fashion are undeniably working a craft where the understanding of the material is prime to the end product and plays a paramount role in the inspiration. It could be said that fashion designers work with their feet in two worlds simultaneously; they wield products whose construction and also styling is deeply rooted in tradition yet work within the parameters of a global system of mass production based on product obsolescence. Coming to industrial design with a background in fashion affords me a greater understanding and appreciation of materials and the art and role which craft can play in design.

I am particularly interested in the role intelligent textiles can play in bridging the domains of fashion and industrial design. These fabrics are made up of conductive, chromic, phase changing and shape memory materials, which enable control of colour, graphics and form (Intelligent Textiles). Intelligent textiles allow for a physical interactive connection between people and technology. They have the potential to help individuals become dually conscious of the relationships they have with others and also with technology itself (Vincente,46). Intelligent textiles are significant as they offer a new perspective in the design of objects: their innate tactile and flexible qualities support the sensory objectives of this project; they offer a hybrid experience of historical legacy and new technologies and they serve to facilitate and promote moments of reflection and concentration (Jacobs,1493). It is my intent to support, augment and contrast the use of intelligent fabrics with more traditional materials such as ceramics, cloth and wood as well as recycled rubber, plastics, used objects and worn materials (rusted metal, weathered plastics, scratched articles). Beyond their creative possibilities these additional materials provide a means to encourage further discourse around the issues concerning craft and sustainability in design.

To be continued…