eTextiles as a Site for Speculative Storytelling

Posted on Jun 19, 2018 in Craft, In process

I wrote this recently for an application and while I have no formal, more contextual place to share it at the moment, it sums up much of the thinking I have been doing over the last 6 months.

The power of speculative fiction lies in its ability to suspend the ingrained stories we tell ourselves about the past, present, and future. I propose that suspending our everyday stories requires a moment of transformation that permits a person to inhabit a liminal state. Only after entering that liminal state can a person begin to play with their everyday values and perspectives, questioning, stretching, and inverting them to imagine other possible pasts and futures. For the purposes of this application, I want to speak broadly to eTextiles as a rich site for speculative storytelling based on this idea.

Listening to a fabric speaker is a magical, intimate event. Controlling a display with a knitted sensor makes us question what we know about how machines work. These interactions confound our perception of the objects because they do not align to our material expectations. It ushers the listener and stretcher into that possible moment of transformation, that liminal site where we can unravel oppressive frameworks and stitch new stories together. New narrative possibilities are amplified by eTextiles’ position as a hybrid practice. It is deeply grounded in craft and propelled by advancements in technology. It knots ancient traditions with new techno-rituals. It blurs the gendered constructs associated with craft and technology. It welds the handmade with the manufactured. It is the artisan and cyborg.

The closer technology moves to the body, the greater its potential for liberation, magic, or repression. The textiles and garments around us are about to become much smarter. Once constrained by manufacturing and material science challenges, the wearable tech industry is solving many of these problems at a rapid pace. Yet those companies are doing little to reflect on the potential societal and environmental impacts of such products. From a practice-specific perspective, we need to develop new stories to help us think critically about what we want this field to be and not be. As a general methodological approach, eTextiles can drape the outcome of possible futures around us, allowing people to connect with it on a tangible, personal level. What future will we wear?