Hi. My name is Aoife Ludlow and I’d like to say thanks to Fast-uk and folly for inviting me along. First of all, when I started thinking about what I was going to say about ‘Perimeters, Boundaries and Borders’ I had a bit of a panic attack. Then I thought about it a little bit and started thinking about my work and eventually realised that even going back quite a bit that pretty much everything I’d ever worked on had some kind of a border or a boundary somewhere that got a bit blurred and a bit confused and that seems to have been quite apparent in the last couple of years.
I started off studying Embroidered Textiles and what really drew me more into technology initially was the fact that I hated drawing. I wasn’t very good at it and I was in a class of really, really good drawers. Any way I could find a way of avoiding using a pen and paper sounded good to me. So from my point of view, beginning in college I was drawn to technology. I suppose as well that I never really felt that I was crossing any kind of a boundary because the origins of computing are in textiles. If you go way back to the punch card systems of a Jacquard loom it is kind of where it all sprang from.
So I used a lot of basic things like Photoshop and stuff like that was where I started in college. As I worked at that I moved into 3D, so I did a bit of 3D modelling in my undergrad days. So this is some from my degree collection where I moved into designing more sort of sculptural, and into more jewellery-based work. I had already moved away from textiles before I’d even finished the course – this is all paper, plastics and metal work. Maybe it is just that I get bored really easily, I don’t know. So that was where I started and from there I went on the digital thing became more and more part of my work - digital imagery in particular and I started getting interested in animation so when I finished textiles I went on to do a Masters in Interactive Media. Again, I never really felt I was stepping outside of my box all that much until someone in one of the first lectures – we were introducing ourselves to the lecturer - and I said I’d studied textiles and he said "Is that a degree?" Maybe I’m not in the right class after all. So that is where I am coming from.
I am interested in ordinary, everyday things. Again it goes back to that I get bored easily – I’m interested in why I get bored, really banal things tend to interest me more than they should I suppose. This is a quote from Georges Perec that I like:
"How should we take account of, question, describe what happens every day and recurs everyday: the banal, the quotidian, the obvious, the common, the ordinary, the infra-ordinary, the background noise, the habitual?"
It is about the everyday and the obvious and things that we don’t notice and things that we do all the time. And this again is related back to working in jewellery. People ask me what do you do and I say I make jewellery and they instantly look at your hands to see what you are wearing. Or they look at your neck. I never wear anything I make. I don’t even wear much jewellery – I automatically put on those three things every morning and I never even think about it. I make things for other people to wear but I never think about what I wear myself. So this is where I started thinking back to it is all so much habit. It’s just something I do it’s ordinary. So I started to look at these habits, look at my own habits – what I was wearing and why I was wearing it. This was at the same time as working on the course on interactive media so as my thesis project these three questions came up: how do you change your habits? Or what if you want to change a habit and you don’t really know where to start, especially when it comes to something that you wear. I tried to stop wearing things for a while and see how it made me feel – it makes you feel a bit naked without it - it feels a bit odd leaving something that you wear every day and not putting it on. Could a piece be more adaptable to change? Could things that we wear reflect change or different habits – when you do wear them or don’t wear them or why you wear them? If you had some way of reflecting on these habits could that encourage you to remember these habits more or to think about them some more or could it make you forget or change your habits in some way?
This is the piece that is showing at the exhibition called ‘Remember to Forget?’ It started life as a series of questions and this is what it has developed into – it has been through a number of incarnations. So it is a piece of jewellery and a jewellery box. When I was thinking about my own habits – the only time I notice these couple of things that I wear every day is when I put them on in the morning or when I take them off. When they are actually on they fade into the background. This is where the idea came of holding the point of putting on or the point of taking off – I always leave them in the same place every night because they are important and I don’t want to lose them. They sit in a box or they sit in a specific location always when I take them off. So something inside the box would reflect how you wear things or why you wear things. It has been through a couple of different versions. The first piece was a modular piece that if you wanted to stop wearing something but it was hard to just take it off and go and put it away so you could gradually deconstruct the piece and put it away a section at a time. The significance of these pieces they are often related to many memories. Each module of the piece was connected to a photograph, something to do with that piece or some memory associated with that piece. The box displays these photographs so long as you kept wearing each module but as you started to put pieces of it away or leave them in the box the photos will fade away gradually to reflect that move or that change in your habit. Another piece actually took a physical record of times and dates – a very clinical, hard-nosed approach – so you could look at your diary of when you wore these pieces or didn’t. The third piece which is the piece that is in the exhibition was kind of a more abstract piece. It is a very slow and gradual animation that builds over time to display more and more light over time so the longer you wear something, the longer it is away, the longer it is on your person the more important it is so the box reflects this by glowing more and more so the longer you wear something the brighter the glow from the jewellery box. If you put it away for a long time the animation gradually blurs and fades and disappears. So if you wear something like a bracelet that there is a predictable pattern it will glow to a certain degree and go back down in a steady pattern so if your pattern changes so does the light coming from the box.
It is a very simple piece – it is not very complicated technology in any way, shape or form. It is done with Director and Processing and at the minute is using RFID as a sensor mechanism. I’m no techno-nerd and I’m not very good at a lot of that kind of thing but it was just a way of exploring the idea more so than wanting to use technology and I suppose that is what I think it is all about - just finding the right tool for the job. In this case and with some other work I’ve been doing technology, software, programming, whatever has been my tool and it has allowed me to express those ideas – that I how I feel it should be used not technology for technology’s sake. Which particularly in the case of a lot of wearable technology that has shown up in the last couple of years it is really about "Wow we have this technology – what can we put it in?" It is just an attitude I don’t like. For me it is about the slow and the simple, the ordinary and the everyday.
I currently work at Interface at the University of Ulster it’s a new research centre. It has two parts Art and its Location which is the more fine art strand and Art in Public which is broken into Art in Contested Spaces – we’re based in Belfast so it’s not too hard to find a contested space – and Art and Documentation. I’m a Research Assistant with Fabric Forward and the very fancy name they’ve given us is Hybrid Textile Configurations, Customisation and Construction – please don’t ask me what they mean. I’m just going to run through a couple of the things we are working on at the minute – the more programming based work like ‘Remember to Forget?’ has taken a bit of a back seat for me at present because of other projects. These are all group projects – we are running a series of master classes inviting high level professionals in different fields to come and work with us and the equipment that we have around themes. The first one of these was Contemporary Souvenirs and we had Peter Ting who is Aspreys homewares designer and also designs for a number of other people, Dierdre Nelson a textile artist based in Scotland, Clare Grennan who is a jeweller and then the rest of us (Interface staff) are textile based. So this is some of the work from the very first workshop exploring notions of Irish souvenirs. They look like very ordinary things, probably but it was more about process. The whole thing about Irish food came up and the fact that Irish people when they live abroad always send home for their tea, their Barry’s tea, their bacon and their potato bread. So on the right are just some crazy tea bags, printed with all kinds of text and they were just some good John Hinde’s photographs printed on tea bags. The top left is some ground up, local peat just cut the day before that has been screen printed and flocked onto a linen tablecloth. We also made some tea towels that actually made tea – we printed tea and made tea with the tea towels. The bottom image here is actually sugar that has been flocked on and then it is laser cut so that when we opened the laser cutter we had this beautiful smell of caramel in the whole building from laser cutting the sugar. Some of this work has been developed into more practical things. We have had a second round of workshops working with a small number of manufacturers and craft workers in Northern Ireland and some of the work will be exhibited next year at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.
One of the other projects we have been working on with the Helen Storey Foundation and the Polymer Centre in Sheffield it will be three exhibitions in the coming two years looking at ideas – there are two parts to the exhibition – ‘Wonderland’ and the other part is called ‘Ideas That Could Change the World’. It’s all about recycling. The Polymer Centre are working on products from new polymers, new plastics mostly ones that will dissolve in water and can then be reconstituted. So a thing like a bottle that when you are finished with it can be washed down the sink and is extracted in the sewerage system and can be recycled in that way. It is just making recycling easier and trying to make it not so much of a chore for people.
The part that we are involved in is kind of the press puller for the exhibition one of the more practical applications is a series of seven dresses that will dissolve in large tanks of water over the course of three weeks. So by the end of the exhibition there will be seven tanks of water where once there were seven dresses. It has been really interesting to work on because we are trying to make all these beautiful things but once we have made them we then have to think what happens when we put them in water. It has to look interesting when it goes into water. We have been making things and destroying them on a daily basis which was tough to come to terms with at first. You spend four hours making a piece of fabric (a 2m square piece of fabric or whatever) and when it is finished you pick it up, put it in a fish bowl and watch it disappear. Technology has come in in a big way in that all of a sudden video has become of massive importance to us. So that we have to video and photograph absolutely everything and then we’ve got to study the video to see what works and what doesn’t work. It’s like trying to design from all angles.
The photo on the right was the first full garment we made up. The left is just two fabrics we were working on. We actually showed that at Siggraph in Boston this year at what used to be called the cyber fashion show which thankfully it no longer is. So that was really interesting - we got quite a reaction from people who didn’t know what was going on when she started to drape her dress into a large tank of water.
I’m also involved in something else that crosses some boundaries. A group of us in the University got together over coffee and decided to do a bit of work together. We are called Call Centre Collective because they shoved us into an office space that really resembled a horrible call centre. Ruth is an architect, Saoirse is a new media artist but she used to be a product designer, Doris is quite a traditional fine artist a painter and printmaker, Emma is a textile artist and then there is me. We are involved in quite a large community project at the moment. Donegall Pass is a very tight, small, inner city, working class, very loyalist community in Belfast which is under a lot of pressure - because it is a prime place in the city centre – from corporate developments on all sides. There is a site at the end of the Pass which is derelict. The Regeneration Officer for the area is currently in talks with the Housing Executive about trying to negotiate that the community will take on this site to develop it for themselves. There is a big problem with housing in the area. The Regeneration Officer came to us after hearing Ruth talk at some City Council event and asked us to come down and do some work in the community. Not to do a participatory design process but to try and find ways to involve the community so that at some time in the future they would be ready to take on a cooperative design project as part of the regeneration of the area.
We have been down there for about five months off and on, getting to know people, looking at the area and thinking about things. As a way of launching ourselves into the whole thing we got involved in a project called Space Shuttle - which is the silver box there. It is a model of a gallery space in Belfast, part of a different project that we have pulled into this one. So we were down in Donegall Pass at the end of August for ten days running a series of workshops and events - all kinds of different things to draw the community in and get them talking. We took the whole theme of space and the space shuttle as a way of engaging them and talking about space, and talking about their own space. So some of the images there are from one day we spent making space suits with a group of kids as a way to engage them to talk about survival and what it takes to survive in Donegall Pass and what kind of things they need out on the street which is where those kids spend a large amount of their time. We sent them off to record sounds of the street and then we broadcast from the Space Shuttle. We also made a space walk and this was the last day [Video].