How do you engage people and represent a city? With City Threads–a soft circuit sculpture! Codasign collaborated with artist Heather Forknell and families in Leicester, UK to create this installation at Phoenix, a nonprofit art hub. I tracked down Emilie Giles, team member at Codasign, about this interesting mix of art, education and people. She was happy to share her thoughts and photos.
Phoenix wanted us to run a workshop that would include children in the building of a piece of art, whilst also allowing them to reflect on what it means to grow up in the city of Leicester. We were already familiar with the work of Heather Forknell, a local artist, and loved the idea of combining her work with something that the children could contribute to. Due to Leicester’s textile heritage we felt that a textile based sculpture would lend itself well to this and combined with eTextiles would allow us to add the Bare Conductive Touch Boards to have capacitive sensing as our form of interaction, triggering sound files recorded by the children involved.
The installation was created using lengths of fabric and wool gloves. Switches were created by stitching icons with conductive thread on felt patches, which were fastened to the large pieces of fabric and then joined to the Bare Conductive Touch Boards with more conductive thread. Children had fun in a previous workshop recording sounds appropriate for Leicester, and the files were stored on the MP3 function of the boards. Check out a sample of their sounds. I was impressed by the project’s multi-generational appeal and cohesive design, and Emilie agreed.
Any participatory based project is hard work; you have to ensure that the framework is there in order for things to be added to the artwork. Making sure that all the circuits were sewn to the Touch Boards correctly, not touching each other so they wouldn’t short, was probably the biggest challenge, as you need to add the technology but don’t want to compromise the appearance of the artwork in any way. Everything worked out perfectly though! 🙂
For teachers working on STEAM (Science, Teach, Engineering, Art, Mathematics) curriculum, this is a great example of bringing a bunch of goals together. There is the element of learning electricity and circuits, understanding design/project thinking, examining the culture of a city, discovering symbolism with icons, sewing, investigating audio, and learning to work in collaboration. Enjoyment can be found on many levels.
When making their small interactive E-textile patches with conductive thread, they especially enjoyed drawing their ideas and then stitching them. The children in the first workshop loved making their sound recordings (they worked in small groups so they had a lot of fun). Overall, you could see that everyone: children, young people and adults all received instant gratification from touching the patches to trigger the sounds – they found this almost magical!
These ideas can also be incorporated into wearables, like a skirt with pocket switches to trigger nature sounds, or a baseball hat with a brim trigger that plays your favorite team’s song. If you feel drawn to audio projects, you might want to check out our Laugh Track Jacket–you’ll have everyone texting LMAO at the next party. Let your clothing do the talking, it’s awesome!
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