[-empyre-] final post

Kettley, Sarah sarah.kettley at ntu.ac.uk
Thu Jun 2 16:44:51 EST 2011

I prepared this last night and this morning - I apologise for not being in touch yesterday like others have time issues - still reviewing many many students. Unfortunately it seems that while there are responses here to some questions, I have inadvertently missed others - no offence has been intended if I didn't pick up on threads and opportunities for engagement, they are all important, and I'd welcome the chance to continue of not here, then again in the future somewhere. Like Danielle, much of what I am trying to condense here is effectively my Phd, and we can but try. That large document included approaches to authenticity (not touched on here at all), acceptance or rejection of wearable systems in the workplace, the commercial vision for wearables, Craft, female friendship groups, and a case study of the Friendship Jewellery. Here are my prepared comments:

Well, last day, and lots of points to respond to…Johannes, you mentioned that I spoke of your beloved wearables as gadgetry and that this doesn’t reflect what others in the field are doing – you are quite right, it doesn’t. When I was making the Friendship Jewellery, and constructing the thinking around it, it was still relatively early days. Magggie Orth and others like her were just emerging from MIT, challenging the default borg aesthetic of Steve Mann and others with soft and malleable materials. I was responding to the claim that engineering led wearable computing (as it was then) was soon to be a huge everyday market, and suggesting that wearable technology would need to take into more account the sophisticated and variation of how people present themselves and negotiate social spaces through what they wear. ‘Gadgetry’ has been taken up as a term especially in digital jewellery to denote objects and systems that tend not to be part of long lasting or deep relationships with owners – in contrast with the characteristics of much jewellery, which is often written in terms of intimacy. My question was what if in designing wearable technology for the everyday, contemporary jewellery had to deal with the distributed nature of a computational material? What would happen to the focus of a work – it could not remain as intimate (and I was never addressing the visceral as Danielle does) – and there may be serious questions for creative practice if expression not only is shared across a number of objects, but in fact, is expected to disappear, as in the invisible computer (yes, after Heidegger). All this because I was drawing from the fields not of performance, but of HCI and early interaction design. Distribution was not chosen because I wanted to achieve a particular outcome in the work, rather it was a key characteristic of the technology as material, which the work emerged from. As for learning tools, I’m not sure this is the right question…they are not tools for learning, but are to be figured by their users/owners through use. The ‘distinctiveness’ of everyday performativity is an interesting one, and I have looked to Simmel and Goffman for the complex interplay and control over levels of belonging and difference in dress – in fact, this is what the single aesthetic of the borg could not offer, and why the field needed to be opened up to other design disciplines. I think it is exactly that interplay that constitutes everyday performativity.

This does all seem to be in contrast to Davin’s comments on habitus, and I’d like to learn more about that – I realize there are gaps in my theoretical knowledge. Perhaps habitus is challenged by this aspect of networked technology? Certainly it is a challenge for jewellery, which is very rarely considered as an ecological system of expression beyond the well defined cultural life markers (wedding rings etc), or sub cultures that Ted Polhemus would tell us about  (in fact, see Mah Rana’s work for a wonderful and rather ethnographic account of how people wear jewellery; and Oppi Untracht attempted to map communities not of wearing but of production, which might give clues to future work). When jewelers approach technology, it is more usually the personal that is being protected. Jayne Wallace’s work is a good example of this – she writes on empathy as methodology and develops exquisite technology for the body, based on close ties with other individuals or with place.

Finally, Renate asked about the Migration project – that’s a sadly unresolved one, on the back burner. The intentions are there, and the conceptualisation of the work as jewellery is a way for me to continue exploring the issues above. Using many parts in a single piece of jewellery seems to offer interesting ways to explore output/expression as a dynamic over a larger area of the body. Of course, this is being done in garment form by others such as the Subtela research group and Joanna Berzowska, both in Montreal. How would making it a piece of jewellery give us anything different? I’m not too sure yet, but I am aware that I want the all the work to feed back into the field of contemporary jewellery, as much as it exists in ‘wearables’. What I do find fascinating about contemporary jewellery (as distinct from the cultural norms of wedding rings), is that it acts as a frame for all of these forms and more. The new jewellery movement of the mid 20th century saw precious materials being rejected, and ideas of what was wearable being pushed to the limits. I used to manage a contemporary craft gallery, and was always working to engage visitors with works that were large, colourful, extravagant, challenging (see Marjorie Schick or Nora Fok for example) – it was not a question of could you wear it, but when would you? The gallery opening did seem to become the only place some of these pieces might be considered socially viable (see the Association for Contemporary Jewellery - http://www.acj.org.uk/). I think this might give wearable technology the freedom to be developed as forms not constrained by classification by existing garment forms. The challenge is that shift from the everyday to the theatrical and back again.

Thanks for all the questions and comments, and I hope to stay in touch outside of the empire discussion,
Best wishes, Sarah

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