Redressing Perspectives: Mediation, Embodiment and Materiality in Digital Fashion and Textiles
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Digital technologies have not only introduced different ways of designing and producing textiles and garments and changed their systems of distribution, they have led to new fields of practice and inquiry including digital fashion, wearable technologies, and smart textiles. Bringing together disciplines as diverse as engineering, textile science, health science, design, and materials science, these new interdisciplinary fields have required collaboration and demand new perspectives extending beyond their initial scientific frameworks. While early research was dominated by functional and technical concerns, utilising scientific approaches, the area of smart wearable technologies warrants diverse theoretical and methodological frameworks to better support the development of these particular new forms that combine dress and device, material and digital, bodies and technologies. Curiously, the fields of fashion and dress theory, and of media studies, have been slow to engage with the emerging field of ‘wearables’. Established framings of fashion and dress have tended to focus on systems and symbolism, positioning fashion as an industry that manufactures and sells commodities, or a socio-cultural system of signification that can be ‘decoded’. The field of media studies has focused on culture and communication in relation to media technologies, but has tended to ignore their techno-material conditions. In this essay concepts of mediation, embodiment, and materiality, drawn from areas including media studies, fashion theory, embodied cognition, and new materialism are discussed in relation to digital fashion and smart textiles. These theories introduce new ontological perspectives that help articulate the particularity of these new fields, the ways they contest traditional subject/object relationships, and open up new methodological approaches. Three examples of recent practice-based research projects conducted at the Auckland University of Technology are discussed in relation to these new frameworks and associated design methodologies.