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June 5, 2019

Materials-Based Research Grant Recipient Spotlight

In celebration of ᏔᎷᏣ The Basket

Establishing an Experimental Weaving Residency to Bridge Art and Engineering

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Since 2017, the Center for Craft has awarded the Materials-Based Research grant in order to encourage mutually-beneficial collaboration between craft and the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The grant supports a tendency among contemporary craftspeople to explore how their material-specific knowledge, skill, and creativity can apply outside the field of fine art.

In 2018, the Center for Craft awarded Laura Devendorf and Steven Frost a Materials-Based Research Grant to establish an Experimental Weaving Residency within Devendorf’s Unstable Design Lab, an interdisciplinary research lab located within the ATLAS Institute at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The goals of the project include not only supporting a fruitful collaboration between a fiber-artist and researchers at the University of Colorado, but also understanding how to establish a model for such research collaborations that can be applied more broadly in the future.  

Laura Devendorf, a design researcher who studies how technology shapes our relationships to the worlds in which we live, is an assistant professor at the ATLAS Institute as well as the Department of Information Science. Steven Frost is an artist who tells the stories of hidden histories through objects and performances. His research focuses on queer narratives in pop culture and community development in DIY community spaces.

“I am excited for the residency to create a space for imagining new forms of partnerships between researchers and craftspeople,” Devendorf says. “I imagine that it will be a process of collaboratively making, sharing, and hopefully producing work that neither party could have envisioned alone.”

After Devendorf and Frost issued a Call for Applications for the residency, they received 200 applications that spanned the globe from artists living in North America, Asia, South America, South-Asia, and Europe. After a comprehensive review process, the selection team chose Sandra Wirtanen, an artist from Finland, as the resident. Devendorf and Frost considered Wirtanen’s training as a fiber artist, as well as her experience working with nontraditional materials, unique and inspiring. Her practice fit the their work in terms of both concepts and technical fluency and they felt it was a natural fit to integrate her into each of their existing research programs.  

During the six-week Experimental Weaving Residency, which begins in July, Wirtanen will collaborate with university researchers and local partners to conceptualize and develop textiles that engage technology in their design, production, or concept. This includes data-driven or generative design of textiles, textiles with embedded functionality, or textiles that embody critical perspectives of technology and society.

“I believe integrating technology to textiles, and rethinking what textiles can do, opens up new opportunities in both creative and technical sides,” Wirtanen says. “Aesthetics and tactility are often forgotten in the development of smart textiles or wearable technology, and harnessing material and design knowledge in the fields could truly make the products better. On the other hand, unusual materials and technical restrictions challenge designers to find new directions for artistic expression.”

Wirtanen will have access to impressive equipment in laboratories at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The Unstable Design Lab has weaving equipment and a library of smart textiles prototype materials and equipment. She will also have access to the TBD Lab and Bioastronautics lab, which offer a laser cutter, 3D printers, soldering irons, sewing machines, and test facilities to experimentally investigate designed garment and sensor systems.

“I am looking forward to sharing knowledge with the community, and working on inspiring projects together,” Wirtanen says. “This is a truly unique opportunity to learn and let creativity flow.”

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