Interview – Design ninjas weave words at deTour 2017

deTour Weaving words

In the art scheme of things, this cheerful group of architects are on a beautiful journey along with deTour 2017; realising their dreams, one weave at a time.

At first glance, the art installation looks exactly like a bamboo scaffolding that you see on one of Hong Kong’s many skyscrapers. The design ninjas, as we would like to call them (the artists – Malina Dabrowska, Jasper Stevens, Martyna Marciniak, Eunice Tsang, Mario Bobbio) say it is a bamboo scaffold with a sound twist – A tapestry that is surrounded with voices, sounds, nostalgia and memories translated into seismograph and machine language that would be a fine, artistic recording of the deTour festival itself.

Malina, Jasper and Martyna graduated from the Bartlett School of Architecture (University College London), Eunice graduated as a painter from the Slade School of Fine Art and Mario specialized in Multimedia Entertainment Technologies at HK Polytechnic University. This piece of art started with an idea that was born out of thin air, when these friends decided to get together and create something. This transformed into a reality and has taken shape as Weaving Words here at the deTour creative festival 2017.

deTour HK 2017
Martyna, Malina and Jasper

The tapestry is well thought-out, with an enclosed structure that encourages participants to interact with the installation easily. People can pitch in and talk in various languages, in varying pitches, kids can scream “milkshakes milkshakes” or one can do a whispering confession. All of this chaos is woven into the piece of clothing with three colours that’s connected to the system and one can see the magic happen as the words are spoken.

A lot of art work that we see are focused around the written word. How did the idea of making something as physical as a weave, that too with the spoken word initiate in your minds?

We wanted to create something that the audience can interact with. Visitors can speak any language and can be from any part of the world to participate in this. A baby, a radio, even the universe can participate. The spoken words are translated into patterns, colours inked into the yarn and woven together to create the final piece at the end of the festival. This machine here is writing with sounds, translating from one medium to another and you can touch and see the results happening before your eyes.  And the testament will be the final piece.

It is very exciting for us as this is the first time we are building a machine of this scale and size. But we always have a ‘can do’ approach and with any input, quite appropriately for the architects in us, we always build on it. The future could hold anything, perhaps a reddit feed or twitter feed can be translated into weaves. It would be interesting to see if human emotions can be used too.

This art work seems to be the perfect example of Harmonious Chaos, tell us more about that. 

Well, thank you! We thought about the theme for a couple of weeks, came up with numerous sketches, but went back to the first idea of making a system and making it influencing for people to take part in it.

We like the fact that there are errors and errors are beautiful, we only control it up to a point. It may even reach an accidental state, where we need to stay back and fix the machine. In doing that, we become the victims of chaos in order to maintain harmony. That’s how we perceive this theme.

“This can be conceived as an art performance involving the people, the machine and the artists. The people act as participants, the machine acts as a tool and we go around fixing and improving the whole process”.

deTour Weaving words
Initial sketches of the weaving words project

We also had some out of the box ideas when we started the thought process. Jasper suggested we have a complicated machinery going on which the participants can view and when they get to see the finished version of weaving words, they would see 4 grandmas sitting and physically knitting the cloth! We even thought about John Searle’s Chinese room experiment for this art installation. We keep thinking up new ideas.

Did you go for Arduino because it is open source? Did you have enough online / documentation support for the project? Tell us about how you went about building it?

The main knitting mechanism and the motors were easily programmable with open source support. We had to focus on finding the right drivers, converting sound into voice frequencies, dividing them into scenarios, into bands of those scenarios and configuring the corresponding motors. Although we started off with 8 scenarios, we have toned it down to 3 scenarios to make it simpler for the visitors.

None of us are programmers, so we made use of the incredible resource online, trying to translate open source into a life-sized 3D model. Although the open source supported us with tools, we had to do it, we had to put the needle in right place in order for it to work. The online libraries didn’t do it for us, we did it as a team.

What was the biggest challenge in putting up such a strictly-controlled installation?

No sleep!!! And to transport everything from London where it was put together and tested. We had to divide the panels into smaller parts so it fit in our luggage. Here in Hong Kong, from setting the separated panels right, as they were wobbly if not fixed perfectly; to organizing the machine and the scaffolding. It was a huge challenge as the supplier absconded and we were by ourselves. So, one of us cut the circle that you see on top of the installation manually. So, logistics and sleep were major challenges. But the upside of it is we got to collaborate with a lot of people in the process.

When we set this up at home back in London, the machine was literally living with us. It was on our bed while we slept on the ground.  We would work all day and would come back to the machine in the evening. But we do like it this way.

How does this art installation impact our environment?

We used plywood for the installation and kept everything at minimal, less labour, less shipping. The artwork itself inspires people to recycle clothes or mend your own clothes. Most of what is used in the artwork will be given away for reuse and thereby ensuring no wastage. We might even reuse the motors for our future projects.

We have done projects in the past that were very wasteful, we don’t really look at how much timber or water is wasted, when someone else is doing it. When you do it yourself you are more mindful. So, we designed this project very mindfully.

This piece sits in between, cloth making, handicrafts and handmade where imperfection is being celebrated. We love imperfections, Imperfections are good.

It is a fascinating and intimate relationship between the art and artists, and we would like to thank them to have shared that with the Hopalaoop team. They called the overall experience of this creative art project truly gratifying although very intense. The idea to create something that an audience can participate and interact with rather than just watch, enthralled them.

Check out the festival details here – deTour 2017