Jan 18, 2008

a piece of cloth

across the hall from the history of history, there was a traveling collection from the kyoto costume institute accompanied by more photographs by sugimoto that were not very inspiring. fortunately, to make up for it, the collection contained some topological clothing which was pretty cool from rei kawakubo and the miyake design lab. when i stumbled on a piece of cloth (by dai fujiwara and issey miyake) a few years ago, it was epiphanic. a-poc is a line from the miyake design lab employing a process designed to create fully-constructed pieces of clothing as the end-product of weaving -- they encode three-dimensionality into a two-dimensional object by careful and complex manipulation of the weave.

the genes of the cloth force it to become a specific object with only a small range of variation. (as it turns out, fujiwara himself has described a-poc as being a genetically-encoded design object; it's also particularly wonderful that only a few weavers were able to adapt their production processes to produce a-poc pieces, almost all of whom were master kimono fabric weavers):

The process by which A-POC collections are made is something of a technological revolution in itself (patents pending), and often uses specially developed materials. The A-POC knits are made on industrial knitting machines from the 1930s and 1940s. Fujiwara spent five years developing this machinery to suit the needs of A-POC as well as the computer software that is now used to program them. The thread patterns they produce look a little like a chessboard from an Escher drawing and nothing at all like the piece of clothing they will eventually become. Nevertheless, they still use the same logic as traditional looms, which, at their most basic, direct threads over or under one another, and at their most complex become A-POC. Fujiwara explains the process in his essay for the Vitra Design Museum's catalogue for the 2001 A-POC Making exhibition: 'Analysing A-POC clothing, one finds a set of dots. If one is to consider these dots to be like genes in a human body, each A-POC dress may consist of as many as 200 million "genes".' (courtesy of contemporary)
the limitation on final form is both restriction and stimulation; while it reduces the number of forms a given length of fabric can be transformed into, it also reduces assembly time to nearly nothing. today, clothing, tomorrow, buildings. imagine taking structural steel and concrete and weaving it into flat-pack sheets that are cut up and popped open into houses on-site, within minutes. there was also a rei kawakubo sweater on display that was a single flat piece of knit with slits woven into it, which had been transformed into a draping and three-dimensional form through folding and interpenetration (unlike a sari, which transformed by coiling into a cylinder) -- pretty neat, though very strange-looking. actually, who are we kidding? all of it looked really odd, especially this:

issey miyake (1994), photo by hiroshi sugimoto

in any case, when final forms are built into the fabric of pieces allowing only minor variations to be made to the finished work, the planning and design process requires detail, future-oriented thinking, and extensive optimization. future-oriented thinking seems to emerge in many of the iconic cultural products of japan,* so that i wonder a) if it's something cultural and b) what the genesis of the impulse was -- it's always difficult, without penetrating the hermeneutic circle, to understand whether a piece of work or a body of work represents simple expression of a culture gene or real innovation.

* ise shrine in mie prefecture, for example, is rebuilt in alternating adjacent sites approximately every twenty years, a way of ensuring perpetuity without senescence. the cycles of rebuilding have continued with only a few interruptions for over 1200 years. next rebuilding is in 2013, and i have every intention of being proximate.

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