Dreaming of electric skin

28 Apr 2008

Canadian artist Suzi Webster is introducing Dublin to Electric Skin, her technology-meets-art installation that uses wearable LED sensors and is part of the new TechnoThreads exhibition at Trinity College’s Science Gallery.

“It is a bio-responsive, wearable garment that transforms the breath of the wearer into pulses of light. As the wearer breathes onto the garment, parts of it light up,” explained Electric Skin creator, Webster.

While visitors to the exhibition will not be able to wear the piece due to the fragile nature of the silk/LED combination, the audience will be able to blow on it as it sits on a mannequin and watch the results in the form of bursts of glowing blue light.

Webster said she came up with the idea of Electric Skin naturally as her background is in fine arts and she is mainly concerned with exploring how technology impacts on people.

“With Electric Skin, I was thinking about a couple of things. I really like the idea of making clothes that are responsive in some way to either internal or external stimulation – bio responsive clothing.”

Webster also creates bio responsive installations, such as entire rooms that react to people moving through them, and hopes that in the future living spaces will have a more responsive role to play in our lives.

“What I am really interested in is the human body and technology. How technology impacts us in that way. People interact with their surroundings in unconscious ways all the time but I think technology can sometimes highlight that interaction.

“Having a house that speaks to you when you get home – ‘Hi, what kind of music do you feel like listening to right now?’ – I don’t think this technology is very far away; it’s already happening.”

Webster also deals with the theme of mechanical enlightenment: “We can do all these things with technology but is it really making us better, smarter, kinder people or is it just turning us into alienated, unpleasant individuals?”

Any tool can be sued with intent, she said, and the idea of creating cyborgs brings out the hope of creating a kinder humanity, some kind of super creature or maybe a monster that will turn and bite the hand that feeds it.”

A video of Webster’s Electric Skin installation at work can be found at: www.suziwebster.org/electricskin/.

Other artists featuring in the TechnoThreads exhibition have clothing ranging from pressure-sensitive t-shirts that receive electronic hugs, to spray-on dresses and fungal clothes that are alive.

TechnoThreads began on Sat 26 April 2008 and is running until 26 July 2008 in the Science Gallery on Pearse St. Admission is free.

By Marie Boran