a pixelated garment made with vegetable tanned leather by  Whitney Bai:

When I was reading Matt Ratto this week I couldn’t shake the feeling that I knew the name from somewhere. Was it some reading we had done earlier, a name mentioned in passing perhaps? No. I had come across the name while I was researching Brian Kane a few weeks ago before his guest lecture.

In my research I came across his and Catherine Andreozzi project where students made wearable technology with “an emotional appeal.” Maybe I’m just not getting the project, but I didn’t feel anything from the photos. The photos themselves lent themselves more to a high art crowd that it is completely devoid of human interaction or appeal–– it is intentionally trying to make itself sterile. For something that is supposed to connect both technology and humans, I found it to be a less than successful attempt, though the concept was an intriguing one.

More than that, Kane was in a publication created by Garnet Hertz all about Critical Making (with a sticker contribution in the back). However, this piece seems to be much more about Critical Design in the form it is presented to us than Making in that the purpose seems to be more about the creation of a narrative between critics than it is about bringing about change. I liked this definition by Tony Dunne:

Critical design is related to haute couture, concept cars, design propaganda, and visions of the future, but its purpose is not to present the dreams of industry, attract new business, anticipate new trends or test the market. Its purpose is to stimulate discussion and debate amongst designers, industry and the public about the aesthetic quality of our electronically mediated existence.”

The artist is the Maker, of course, but when all we get is this photo presentation on a website, all I can think is that the ultimate goal was CD and not CM, because there is no discussion of the making, all we get is the finished product.


Work Cited

Dunne, A, & Raby, F. “Design Noir: The Secret Life of Electronic Objects.” Birkhäuser Basel, 2001.


  1. Sandra Huber says:

    Hi! I’m Sandra and I’m commenting from the HUMA 888 course with Darren Wershler at Concordia. We also read Matt Ratto this term and we’ve been thinking about similar ideas around maker culture. Thanks for bringing up this distinction between critical making and critical design, I definitely think this needs a wider discussion. Looking at your links, I had a similar reaction as you did: especially in terms of the electronic garments that were explicitly designed to elicit an emotional response, I found myself “feeling” nothing, or, feeling the equivalent of looking at a well-designed car or having a glimpse into a shop window instead of into a lab… Ditto with the sites you posted on Brian Kane and Whitney Bai.

    I wonder if you’ve heard of what Joanna Berzowska and XS Labs are up to with wearable technology at Concordia? What came to mind especially was her Skorpian dresses, which are designed to be like parasites on the skin of the host / wearer. While you’re wearing them, the dresses move, but not in any way that makes them more comfortable. In Berzowska’s words, “They breathe and pulse, controlled by their own internal programming . . . They are living behavioral kinetic sculptures that exploit characteristics such as control, anticipation, and unpredictability. They have their own personalities, their own fears and desires.” The Skorpian dress is not beautiful and it’s not pliant; the fact that it’s a dress, too, I found fascinating, as this genders the sculpture. In terms of maker culture, this could be an object that opens up discourse that is literally “uncomfortable” and that does so in an industry like fashion where critical making very quickly crosses into design, as you noticed. Also, this dress could ad-dress (dad joke anyone?) notions of the live-ability of the things we make, their autonomy once we make them, what kind of intimacy we expect from our artifacts or our audience, and what role affect can play in critical making.

    Reading your post, I also thought about what other differences between critical making and critical design could be, and where “art” fits in. Is it that critical design caters more to industry and productivity and critical making to ideas and discourse? If so, does critical making maybe need critical design to be placed as the more legitimate practice against it? Also, you hinted that there might need to be a “discussion” in the case of critical making, and I would suggest that the made object should be the discussion itself (like the strange feeling of revulsion and fascination that is activated by the Skorpian dress) — this could be the place where objects themselves become a critical voice? And what would this mean for the “Maker” as you put it?

    Here’s the article on the Skorpian dress where I took the quote from: — I’d be curious to hear what you think about it!


  2. jbrunet2014 says:

    We talked a bit about fashion in class, and specifically high fashion as the conceptual force that trickles down into the practical everyday apparel. I actually used to watch this show called “Fashion TV” when I was a kid (I think it’s a channel now) and see all the crazy runway shows with impossibly impractical outfits and my mom commenting “who would ever wear that?!”, but I kind of liked that haute couture seemed to operate in this entirely conceptual, seemingly untouchable creative space. I can understand the benefits of bridging the gap between the conceptual and material practices in studying tech but I think that art as a conceptual space sometimes benefits from not having to explain itself.

    Some of the pieces in the collection you cited seemed to belong to this realm of pure ideas or art featuring tech, but I think that you might have a point when you say that something is lacking in presenting the works as simply as they did. Technology is a network of different things in itself and I think when you include it in clothing it begs the question of how it works because as we have discussed in our class, so much meaning is inscribed in technique, interface and materiality and the process of making could really provide insight into why wearable tech is even interesting and what kind of questions it raises about clothing itself which is already a form of tech and is made up of an assemblage of concerns like how it’s made, out of what, for whom, for what purpose. For example whalebone corsets in the 1800s bring up issues of industry, in terms of whaling, which is also an environmental issue. The shape of the corset brings up issues of gender and sexuality in creating a supposedly ideal female image, not to mention issues of class. It’s easy to look a back at past forms of clothing and see the values inscribed in them than it is to create new clothing that reveals or complicates tech that we are beginning to examine from different emerging critical perspectives. And concerning the affective potential in clothing, it seems there is a lot of nostalgia involved (in a lot of trends at least) and it’s a lot more difficult to find affective elements in clothing that belongs to our present moment or some notion of futurity, which, compared to nostalgic fashion seems to leave us cold.

    In the case of the Brian Kane and Catherine Andreozzi project, perhaps it was lacking in presentation of the project or the affective element wasn’t communicated because it was derived from “the unique, and often quite personal, interaction between wearer and wearable.” In the end we are only presented with an object is seems rather than a critical process that Matt Ratto describes in “Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life”, “Critical making emphasizes the shared acts of making rather than the evocative object. The final prototypes are not intended to be displayed and to speak for themselves. Instead, they are considered a means to an end, and achieve value though the act of shared construction, joint conversation, and reflection.” (Ratto, 253) It’s interesting that the introduction of technology into clothing seems to necessitate this discussion of making, that now that the clothing does something other than clothe it enters another level of discourse. Which could be cool! And maybe make visible the connection between affect and tech.


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