We live in a time where our data is constantly being collected, sold, and used to define our consumer interests. Products are being created to fit our needs and desires, as suggested by our personal data. We give away this intangible material (and arguably, part of ourselves) without even thinking about it, hitting the “Accept” button on the Terms and Conditions without a second thought. But what if our information was seen as real, tangible, physical material; a product in itself? Can our information be directly translated into a luxury product, unique to our own digital identity?
This is the question posed by Austrian fashion designer, Flora Miranda, who has created quite a name for herself in avant garde fashion design. After graduating from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Miranda worked in the atelier for revered designer, Iris Van Herpen. Miranda takes an interdisciplinary approach to science, art and fashion, which organically informs her collections and ideas. As part of this year’s HKW Forecast Forum, Miranda has created “IT Pieces”, blending her critical approaches to data with fashion design. As part of the project, she’s produced an application that designs one-off knitwear based on each user’s online behaviour and digital footprint. The knitwear is emblazoned with lyrics by Finnish musician Jaako Eino Kalevi (who collaborated on the project); which lyrics appear on the garment is determined by the personal data-crunching application. The slogan on each piece of knitwear is distinct, resulting in a bespoke garment designed, in effect, by your digital habits.
Miranda realised “IT Pieces” with her Forecast Forum mentor Max Wolf (an innovator in media system design), but the overarching idea had been percolating for some time. Miranda explains that the collections she was working on when she graduated from Antwerp Fashion Academy “explored quantum physics and teleportation, and the idea that we are essentially made from information”. Her most notable previous collection, “_sidereal_ethereal_immatereal_”, is a material exploration of teleportation. The pieces made of blue and black strips of leather notion towards moving a “body from one place to another in a physically immaterial way”. These explorations of (im)materiality led to the conception of “IT Pieces”. Miranda became fascinated by the question: What if that data is actually seen as material? “It’s not visible, but it is material, it is information. Could I give this information to a machine and the machine transform it into something material?” “IT Pieces” reverses and complements “_sidereal_ethereal_immatereal_” — by transforming data into something tangible, Miranda makes the immaterial material.
By transforming data into something users can wear and brazenly display, “IT Pieces” also questions the overwhelmingly negative discourse around data collection and its transparency. This sense of unease around data collection is particularly prevalent in Europe. The EU famously sued data behemoth Google for €2.42 billion for abusing its dominance, while a culture of VPN blockers and high security measures has spread in an attempt to keep our virtual information confidential. But data is a double-edged sword, and there are countless initiatives currently using data to change the world for the better. Engaging with this idea was paramount to Miranda, who highlighted “open data” as a theme of her work. Indeed, open data in particular has led to innovation in an array of fields in recent years. London open data initiative Placr revolutionised transport apps with real time schedules, while Trafford Innovation and Intelligence Lab was able to remarkably improve cancer screening rates using open data. Burkina Faso held its first ever transparent democratic presidential election in 2015; thanks to open data, the results were announced within 24 hours of polling stations closing. In sub-saharan Africa, such a fast turnaround time was completely unprecedented. As Miranda explains, “It makes sense to track someone’s consumer, behaviour because we can learn a lot from it” — the problems arise when that data is misused. “If you want to create something with data, you need a certain amount of access. But there is always a line when you think, yeah, okay, now it’s being misused. Finding that line is something we still have to figure out”.
Unlike many artists and designers who are working with technology and science, it was important for Miranda to still bring a human and emotional element into this work. “I had the idea to make a fan T-shirt that carries lyrics. By having the lyrics generated from what you are posting, it gains many more dimensions”. This led Miranda into the collaboration with musician Jaako Eino Kalevi. She contacted him because she loved his music and more importantly his lyrics. With Miranda’s interdisciplinary approach to her work, Jaako seemed the perfect fit. ”I think he has a really beautiful aesthetic he has surrounded himself with. It is of course important for me that the visual language fits, it’s not only about the music and in fashion it’s not only about the fashion, it’s about the whole world that you create”
In this first prototype, Miranda is only applying linguistic analytics to user’s Facebook data. However, the possibilities for expanding the datasets — and how they’re manifested physically — are vast. Miranda’’s work invites us to think of our interaction and the connections between the virtual and material world in new ways. With “IT Pieces”, we can begin to explore how these two opposing worlds translate into each other. To see “IT Pieces”, head to Forecast Forum Festival at HKW this weekend. A live performance by Jaako Eino Kalevi will be held tonight, at which we hope to see some of the shirts in action. If you can’t make it tonight, you can plug in your data and customise your own T-shirt on her website.
https://itpieces.floramiranda.com/ and http://floramiranda.com/
The HKW Forecast Forum is Running this weekend 20 – 21 October