1.The body as material - The expression
This exposition reflects upon the possibilities of body movements to generate temporal expressions through dress. It draws on the changes digital technology offers in terms of techniques and methods that often include data extracted from specific aspects, imposing various abstractions of the body and situations. However, the technological systems used by the fashion industry are based on the traditional method for construction and production, utilizing the cut and assembly, which results in a conformity of expression. In such processes, the body is often reduced into a set of data to suit particular construction methods1 .I.e. they are not refining the expression of dress but the production of it. So, these other aspects of the body offered by technology are not incorporated and, as proposed by Fashion Design scholar Karin Landahl, at least to some extent the possibilities offered of new technology are still held back by old perceptions of form”2. In terms of the kinetic aspects of the body, these old perceptions of form are dividing the body based on functionality. The upper body, used for finer motor activity, is separated from the lower body, often used for locomotion. Though this may be functional it is not generating ‘new’ forms.
So, new methods and techniques offered by virtual mediums are challenging the expressions of the body. Their way of understanding the body has been exemplified by Carey Jewitt3, professor of technology and learning, to put the body through an intense re-imagination exploring its expressions. These re-imaginations of bodily expression are essentially what traditionally has belonged to the field of fashion as a field concerned with ‘newness’4. While the way we design for the body and the way we engage through wearing is mainly influenced by habit and functionality and as Landahl puts it old perception of form; I would say that the development of the expression is rarely progressively challenged within fashion. Even if fashion is concerned with newness (Ibid.), it remains resistant to radical change5. As a result, more experimental works often fall into other fields instead of being recognized as innovative fashion ideas. Thiel continues: “it should be about human representation and visual manifestation of it (…) be they physically or digitally”6 while proposing a new field of bodily expressions that move beyond restrictions of mediums. In this exposition, a material-based approach is offered, that aims to broaden the possibilities in the garment making process by proposing a different usage of the body in another system rather than the same usage through a different technology.
Howcome the expressions are more innovative in 3D animation? I suggest that the primary reason is that they are mainly non-material. A virtual expression of a body is fundamentally a representation, it allows for a complete transformation and dissolving of the body since there, in most cases, is nothing underneath; the structure and surface are one and equally virtual7. The proposed virtual expression, the bodily abstractions, are often mediated by various motion capture technologies that collect data derived from movement. The 3D animations ISSEY MIYAKE by Euphrates, birds by Zeitgeist and the very recent and augmented-wearable Super You by Universal Everything, are examples wherein various forms express the same moving body. The presence of the body is in these examples communicated through its appearance in motion and its materiality can take any form. On the other hand, design of clothing involves an aesthetics that is based on static forms and works with the ideal forms of the body. Aspects of form have been dominant in garment making since the dress encloses the body. Such enclosure requires, for functional reasons, motion to be adjusted for in the construction rather than to be used as “material” to influence the design. However, when a dress is moved, its form becomes temporal through the qualities of the body and the material. The body wearing dress is too, at least partly, represented through its movement.
To conclude this introduction, movement is already present in the garment making process but to make use of movement, as opposed to positioned form, as a design material is something utterly different. The approach offered so far could now go in two directions; (1) approach virtual mediums, exploring the aesthetics of fashion through digital technology, i.e. approaching animators as fashion designers, or; (2) explore the possibilities of expression this thinking has for the material based process of garment making. This exposition will follow the material based approach and propose a re-contextualizing of these methods into the garment making process. In this repositioning, movement is brought forth as the main material for the design of dress, subsequently, it shifts the focus from the dress itself to the expression of wearing generated by dress where the body too is part of the structure of dress.
1.2 Comparing the methods
Let’s start by mapping out some of the differences and similarities between the processes of generating the expressions. Firstly, the capturing of movement and the interaction with a virtual representation is often mediated by various motion-capture technologies wherein markers, trackers or a RGBD camera marks the joints or other body parts while the tracking software and their algorithms rebuild the joint locations virtually. In such a process, there is no tactile dialogue with the expression aside from what the markers offer. Based on this extraction, a representation is created through for example blob tracking, optical flow, skeleton tracking or 3d recordings. These processes understands the body in different ways8. Still, the derived data aims to replicate the natural body as a structure that later can be replaced by another structure. When extracting movement, the joints play an important role as they enable bodily movement. The joints are equally important in the garment making process, but they are treated differently since the garment making process is mainly, as previously mentioned, concerned with aspects of form. Within such a process, more points than the joints are added that relate to form, or more precisely, to transform a flat two-dimensional fabric into a three-dimensional form by horizontal and vertical measurements9. In the process of garment making, the designer establishing internal relations by choosing points on the body from where a form can be molded, sculpted, and the form of the body can be rethought. The selected relations in the construction of clothing are usually what enables freedom of movement through a ‘good fit’ but they equally have the potential for expressing movement, to ‘make something happen’ in the material.
The methods for constructing form are utterly different. One is designed for enclosing the body, while the other is representing something from a physical distance. This results in two fundamentally different ways of dealing with materials, on one hand, materials that can produce a mould are preferred, while on the other, 'materials' are chosen to create a form or texture, a structure based on the body as a geometric representation. One of the main design materials of clothing is however not the material itself but the space between body and garment, the negative space or the space in-between. This space constitutes the form of clothing, i.e. the way it differs from the form of the body, and enables the dialogue between two movement identities. In virtual representations, this 'negative space' becomes an artificial construction that is created through the rigging process, where the skeleton is connected to the virtual body. In such a process the mesh is attached via a binding process where the 3D applications apply the rig to various elements throughout the rig. Still, the virtual representation is built as a structure rather than on a structure as is the case when making a garment. This subsequently results in, as previously proposed, different interactions with the expression as one of them is providing a mainly visual expression for the ‘wearer’, while the other provides a mainly tactile one.