Based at the prestigious Central St. Martin’s College of Arts & Design, the MA Material Futures is a two years masters course exploring the intersection of craft, science and technology and looking beyond existing boundaries to anticipate future needs, desires and challenges. Taking materiality as the starting point of the design process the course integrates high and low technological materials and processes, pursuing relevant applications across a variety of industries such as fashion, architecture, product and communication design. Certainly, in our view, the course puts together one of the most thought-provoking graduate exhibitions in London. This year, the Material Futures graduate show, named Provocating Futures (Work in Progress), was no exception. Considering current and future trends, students explored our evolving relationship with technology, biology and design for a better tomorrow.
Bio Conductive Skin is a project by Giuilia Tomasello, a graduate from the MAMF course and an active participant in all things fashion tech. As technology is getting closer and closer to our skin, the project questioned how we can make it more human. Bio Conductive Skin “explores the possibilities of creating biomaterials and proposes alternative applications to our current electronic compotents. These components should feel part of nature and behave just like us,” thinks Tomasello. “By exploring the notion of a technological second skin, I aim to design biocompatible devices that mimic the symbiotic relationship we have with other microorganisms that we cannot live without.” Giuilia proposes new alternatives to our current technological interfaces, aiming to blur the boundaries between what is human and what is technology.
From redefining human and technology to rethinking today’s concept of luxury. What if you could buy human leather? What if, instead of getting Chanel No. 5 to make you feel like Nicole Kidman, you could purchase her skin? That’s what Tina Gorjanc's Pure Human project questions. Pure Human looks how the emerging tissue engineering technologies will enable the commercialisation of human skin.
What if you could buy human leather? What if, instead of getting Chanel No. 5 to make you feel like Nicole Kidman, you could purchase her skin?
Big players in the fashion, luxury and beauty industries have already commissioned a number of research projects with bioengineering institutions. For example, cosmetic giant L’Oreal made news in 2015 when the company announced its research partnership with bioprinting company Organovo, which aims to print human skin. Such collaborations, Gorjanc argues, are enabling the development of existing skin technologies that were firstly designed for specific medical problems and applying them to commercial products targeting the enhancement of normal human functions. “The newly-formed alliances are starting to redefine the standards of the luxury industry by developing products that reach far beyond beauty and physical enhancements, provoking and challenging the relationship between human and skin”, says Tina. In this line of thinking, Pure Human aims to showcase the increasingly indulgent parameters of ethics and security in the field of tissue engineering technologies.
As we have seen, many MAMF graduates are rethinking the relationship with our skin – the largest and probably most under utilised human organ. Lesley-Ann Daly looks at how the body can interact with technology for creative expression. Her project, Epidermis+, is a responsive prosthetic device aimed at dancers and performers. The idea is that when the performer touches one of the prosthetic appendages, it will trigger a sound specific to it. As the performer activates several sounds, they begin to layer into a composition responsive to the movements, thus creating a specific tune according to the dancer’s movements. It’s a two-way relationship between the device and the body, where the movement influences the sound, and, in turn, the sound influences the movement. Lesley-Ann Daly argues that devices should be made to accommodate the human body, not the other way around. Similar projects have already begun to explore this idea by utilising sensing technologies that are rugged enough for performance. One of the better well-known is singer-songwriter Imogen Heap’s Mi.Mu gloves, which allow the wearer to control the sound of his or her voice with gestures.
It’s a two-way relationship between the device and the body, where the movement influences the sound, and, in turn, the sound influences the movement.
Another concept that caught our eye at the Material Futures graduate exhibition is Maritta Nemsadze’s Digital Detox. The work questions whether garments can change the body’s movement habits developed by excessive use of smartphones in the age of Gen Y. We’re now well aware that the excessive use of smartphones in our daily lives has altered social interaction and that it can affect our well-being. This can not only modify the pattern of use but also greatly induce the dependence on the mobile phone. The aim of Nemsadze’s project is to develop a variety of garments and accessories that target specific body movements, mitigating the negative habits developed by the constant use of our devices. “By restricting certain movements, it is intended that the garments will moderate the unnecessary use of mobile phones and encourage the wearer to engage more directly in social activities.”
How can we reach body awareness through materials and how are we going to perceive our bodies in a virtual world? These are some of the questions Benedetta Martino’s Body Awareness Through the Materials aims to answer. The designer says that while today our daily life is mainly led through tangible materials, it won’t be long until virtual reality becomes an integral part of our everyday. The impact of these new immersive technologies will result in less and less frequent contacts with materials and with the tactile sensations they can cause. In a largely digital world, the materials will become increasingly important for our physical body awareness and the tactile sensations that make us feel alive. Martino’s project has in mind the year 2069, where, to avoid being totally absorbed by virtual reality, people will be owners of design tools or objects that will make us remember we are alive and have a body capable of making us feel sensations outside of the digital realm.
These are only a handful of the future-facing projects from the MAMF graduates. With such progressive thinking, we consider their future undoubtedly bright. If you missed the showcase, make sure to check these and more projects here. On 22 & 23 February, the MA Material Futures graduates are also hosting an informal session for ideas-exchange and creative discourse for anyone interested in the intersection of art, design, science and technology. More details and info on their Facebook page.