In texere, digitally generated designs make up the patterns for a hand woven textile that highlights the commonly hidden context around spoken words. Inspired by traditional Folk Art and the use of language in Oral Societies, it’s about crafting unwritten forms of language as a way of preserving the human side of collective memory.
Language shapes the way we see the world and the way we learn how to communicate and relate with each other. Technology doesn’t always capture the human side of language, and that is how things are said. And without it, language is being reduced to meaningless words.
This project preserves the essence of the meaning behind being human in a world that is foreseen to become more and more automated. Since technology is not always designed to transmit empathy and we rely on computers to talk for us. Preserving daily social memory must now include not only the spoken words, but the context around it, represented mainly by the patterns of intonation, pitch, volume and pauses. Such characteristics are present in every language.
After performing audio analysis of oral histories collected, and gathering inspiration from traditional Folk Art and crafting techniques, a digital language pattern that translates the spoken words into weaving designs was generated. Finally, these designs became a physical weaving piece.
Some of the first iterations as part of the User Testing. Asking friends to tell me a story about a trip. The drawing were analyzing frequency, amplitud and pauses.
It's about creating a new language that ties together the old ways of telling and archiving stories with the new ways of consuming them.
I'm fascinated by old record systems, mainly because I think about them as physical representations of data. When I started this project I was intrigue about understanding how these objects were used. They were definitely the technology at that time. The idea of physical objects that could tell you certain type of information, or even stories, seemed really interesting, mainly because of the way we store data nowadays. A really good friend asked me once “Do you think stories have less weight nowadays because they are in the cloud?”. Certainly they do for me. Maybe because I feel it’s easier and faster for them to disappear, and don’t leave any trace behind. The physicality of objects and what materials and texture add to it, was also really interesting. If by touching things we could recall stories, then maybe there’s something about those old record systems that we should re think and bring back.
I was particularly interested in one: Quipu. Quipu (a word that means ‘knot’ in Quechua, an Andean Language) was a record system used in the Incan Empire to keep a record of different things. It was based on knots and cords of different colors. There are still a lot of research going on about if they also kept stories in there, but it is said that the Quipu appeared when the Empire grew so much that they couldn’t keep track of everything.
The stories I wanted to tell:
I thought a lot about which were those stories I felt particularly interest in showing. It was in that process that I started thinking more about what has helped in the fast the act of building a collective memoir in different communities. I immediately got into Oral Traditions, and how these stories transmitted from generation to generation shared now only knowledge but also experiences. Some examples were cantos populares, cuentos, mitos, leyendas, poesía. The best things about this was to think about the relationship that is built between the teller and the audience, as well as how the stories being told were not static: they are alive, they breathe with the tellers’ breath and with that, they have survived time. As someone that has worked with video mostly my whole life, I wanted to try something different and work only with voice, with audio.
I also wanted to collect stories that could connect with people. Culture and identity are for me two big topics that are able to connect people and communities. Even if I thought about the future, I wanted a topic that could still be important and that could explain society nowadays. I gathered 5 persons from different countries, that migrated to another place for different reasons. I asked them how did they cultural identity changed when they migrated somewhere else. And each interview showed up a lot of layers we normally don’t see in people, that are related to who they are and how they have rebuild their lives being somewhere else.
The physical design:
Inspired by the type of material used in Quipus, and wanting to explore the power of different materials, I decided to weave. Textiles have always had a very important role in the preservation of culture and history. So I made a small loom and started weaving. I didn’t know much about the technical style of weaving, so I started with a simple design. I wanted to create a background where I could later add other elements, so I could have layers, in the same way the stories I collected had them. While I was doing this, I realized that I made a big mistake in the way I was pulling the yarn. I had some parts that were most loose than others, some were so tight that they will start creating a sort of design. The interesting thing was to realize that the weaving was transcribing a story, and that each part of it transmitted something different, depending on the way it was weaved. If we think about written or oral stories, it’s the way we combine the words and the way they are being said that gives meaning to the whole piece.
I talked about the important of tactility and tangibility. I made small pompons made of regular thread combined with conductive thread so when people would touch them, they would triggered sound. Using capacitive sensors, I connected the thread to Arduino and then to Max MSP to reproduce the audios. Each pompom contained a different story and the user could go from one to another, and go back if they want to.
Quipu is a physical installation inspired by a recording device used in the Incan Empire made of cords and knotted strings of different colors to capture elements of Oral Traditions. Interaction with it, will reveal daily stories collected from local communities that talk about their cultural identity and their own way of seeing society.
I keep thinking… How do we guarantee to the stored data a long lasting future?
This project was presented in the ITP Winter Show in December 2016.
COYOTEK is a speculative web market place used as a tool not only to create things, but to share narratives. We are using product design to materialize the real human stories behind what being a constantly surveilled immigrant means. These products are not solving a problem, but their concept is thought to disturb how surveillance has been normalized in today’s society. COYOTEK is an alternate narrative, a slightly extreme version of our reality born to bring a more human approach to the effects of surveillance on immigrants nowadays.
The name Coyotek came from the iconic character in the immigration world. “Coyote” is the name used to refer to human smugglers that help migrants cross borders. Traditionally, they are migrants themselves, who have crossed the border before and have come back to their community to share their experience and help others do the same. Nowadays, organized crime, corrupt Governments and immigration policies have complicated the figure of the Coyote. In the same way Robin Hood heroically helped the ones in need, Coyotes have been the primary source to guide immigrants in their journey through the border.
Immigration systems were designed based on the idea of exclusion. In response to this and to all the massive migration movements, surveillance techniques have evolved throughout history in a more specialized and invasive way, becoming a constant reminder of the lack of civil liberties for immigrants. This social control has become a “normal” part of immigrant’s lives, controlling their culture, identity and movement in the physical and digital spaces. To stop this normalization process, we need to think about alternatives that will help individuals resist this system. We need to stop normalizing, and for that we need to create disruptive narratives that would create awareness on how the future could look if we don’t start understanding the consequences this is having on human lives today.
Surveillance won’t stop, but a human perspective is required to design the methods and understand the data being collected. If we start with the idea that immigrants should be excluded, then we are just using surveillance as a way of finding reasons to exclude them from society.
COYOTEK is our way of amplifying our current reality by designing products that are needed today to escape current surveillance methods. It was born from our anxiety of how the future could look, an anxiety that let us imagine how far our humanity could be infringed.
About the Immigration Co/Lab: The Immigration Co/Lab brings together multidisciplinary creatives of various backgrounds (storytellers, technologists, designers, filmmakers, journalists, activists, policymakers etc) involved with and working at the forefront of immigration issues to create projects that serve their communities, to foster critical discussions on current issues, and to address the potential of interactive media to serve as a catalyst for social justice. Find out more here.