Intelligent Materials

At CCA I am currently pursuing research guided by a National Science Foundation grant to create applications for the study of science within arts education.  My inquiry: can an engagement with materials science strengthen art practice?

Artists have a deep relationship with material as a medium for expression.  Material also resists/opposes artists with its own native intelligence; every material has affordances and weaknesses that hinder and inform the creative process.  The intelligence of the material is in dialectical opposition to the intelligence of the artist, and the contradiction of these two states serves as a creative force.  Deepening the dialectical relationship between artist and material could promote wildly creative outcomes.

Breakthroughs in the study of materials, especially via nanotechnology, have changed our relationship to material.  Whereas in the past, builders have sought out materials to match a given function, now materials are being engineered ‘speculatively;’ they have specific properties but no intended use.  It is up to the designer to interpret these technologies, either adoptively or critically, in order to employ them in use.

In design, the adage goes, ‘form following function,’ but I propose a new formulation of process: form and function following fabric.  In this context, fabric can be defined as ‘the essential structure of everything.’  What happens if artists and designers begin with a material and then develop a concept, rather than the other way around?

I am particularly intrigued by the potential work load of bacteria in material formation.  I will be experimenting with fermented fabrics this week.

Green tea + yeast + sugar  + bacteria = Suzanne Lee’s recipe for vegetable leather.  Are there non-fashion applications for this material?


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