Last week I was invited to an exhibition on textiles, Techno Textiles: Inner Space to Outer Space, opening at the University of Minnesota Goldstein Museum (in the college of design). I showed up at 6 with the card shark for the pre-reception (since we knew one of the speakers) so we got in on the martinis, in addition to a nice spread of middle eastern food and sushi. Free food always raises an evening''s grade to at least a C on my curve. The opening was curated by Bruce N. Wright, AIA, the Editor of Fabric Architecture, Design Minor Fellow and Karen LaBat, Professor of Clothing Design and Director of the The Human Dimensioning© Laboratory (HDL). The museum had a variety of exhibits showing different textiles in use from many different disciplines. There was space underwear that had cooling tubing built in (one was black mesh, and looked more like space lingerie to me). There was a display of protective products, like a glove that had tiny armor plates woven in to make them impervious to cutting but were incredibly flexible. I actually did some work for this company after 9/11 and they were developing an apron for flight attendants, a perfect example of pure research having something on the shelf that is a perfect solution to an unexpected problem. They had survival suits and several examples of high end athletic wear (read Olympic style suits to eliminate wind resistance and promote breath ability).
There were some furniture and lighting uses, as well as a really cool fabric that was electroluminescent. The application shown was used as a liner in tent fabric, so that when it was energized the whole inside of the tent lit up. An application shown was for a military hospital. There are also some really cool architectural uses illustrated, from a use for dividers in a Chiropractor''s office, to a demo of the fabric used to create the bubbles on the skin of the China Olympic swimming venue that is internally lit with projections of water textures, to a green roof structure.
The exhibition is open from May 16-July 27. I highly recommend it.
Following the tour, there was a panel discussion at 8p.m. with Su Sokolowski of Nike and Mary Carey of Procédés Chénel International. Su's presentation on technical fabrics from the Nike lab was really fascinating. In addition to the overview of design process at Nike and their priorities in solution development, she also had some fabric samples to demonstrate and pass around. One of the most interesting was a running top with little half moon slits in the back (like the wind slits in a banner) arranged in a concentric pattern (think BP logo) that, when wet (from perspiration, although we used a spray bottle), they opened like little awnings to allow for increased airflow through the garment. Very cool.
Mary Carey (who has been a friend for longer than either of us care to reflect on) then spoke on the use of fabrics in architecture. Her slides had some great examples of structural uses of fabric, as well as some examples of environmental design by people like Cindy Thompson of Transformit and Bill Moss, founder of Moss Inc and some newer masters of fabric architecture. I also was fortunate enough to join Mary and Bruce Wright for a long lunch the following day to discuss fabric architecture and barriers to it''s use and acceptance.
Back in the day Moss was a tent maker (Bill was a designer for Ford, and the station wagons he made lead to family''s traveling and camping) that was a contemporary of Buckminster Fuller working on shelters for natural disasters. The use of fabric as a marketing structure was truly in it's infancy. I can remember Mary, who was with Moss then, flying out to help convince an exhibitor that fabric was a viable structure for their brand. Imagine that, in today's age of the ubiquitous tension fabric hanging sign that has become a commodity, not art. The slides of their Cad-less (although they didn't call it that, as CAD was not invented yet) design where they laid out structures using math and a large floor like sail makers was a real exhibition of craftsmanship vs. marketing. Back then, everything was unique and was purpose designed, not the same old cookie cutter signs that you can rent from quite a few sources.
So, if you have ever made a dollar of commission selling one of these, and you see Mary at an industry event, you should really buy her a drink. If it wasn't for her passion, vision, and almost evangelical promotion of the art form back then it would not exist today in it's accepted form. Just don''t be surprised if she makes a toast to Bill Moss