The Hand of the Cloth: An Ontological and Aesthetic Unfolding Through Digital and Virtual Materiality

Smitheram, Miranda
Joseph, Frances
Smith, Amanda
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

This research unfolds an ontology and aesthetics of cloth through physical, digital and virtual states. Material structure and cloth dynamics are investigated through the use of the technology of motion capture. The context of the motion capture environment permitted working in a 3D digital space with physical things. The potential of motion capture as an innovative designer’s tool that can be used to engage not only with motion, but also with the materiality of things, is emphasised.

This speculative project provides insights into new methods and approaches for fashion research, and contributes to the discourse on new media practices and aesthetics from a different disciplinary perspective. Informing this thesis is an approach through material knowledge of cloth gleaned from an industry background as a fashion designer. This ephemeral and pragmatic understanding of the nature of cloth is extended to unfold deeper ontological and aesthetic considerations as an active register to imagine possible future surfaces. The thesis documents a creative research practice, thinking in and through the materiality of cloth, across the processes and intersections of physical, digital, and virtual interfaces. Ontological and aesthetic frameworks that value perceptual and sensorial experiences of cloth are investigated. The aesthetics of material surfaces in the physical state are closely tied to corporeal and sensory interaction, as primary conditions of this experience.

An original, innovative textile with embedded markers which enabled successful tracking of cloth in motion capture was developed. This new textile released the cloth from its physical matter by recording the specific nuances and mutability of dynamic movement using the three-dimensional space of motion capture. The cloth could be seen as pure surface, an interface that linked the physical body in digital and virtual environments. The data captured from cloth and body was used to create new virtual surfaces which explore the tactile and haptic possibilities of mixed reality spaces. The new textile was critical in considering how material can reveal the trace of the body and answering the question of how we can isolate and observe moments that Miller (2008) suggested as the cloth yielding to humanity (p. 42).

Within this thesis, an approach that reconciles both the materiality and the performativity of the cloth is emphasised. Significantly, gestures and acts of embodiment used to interact with the cloth in motion capture carried over as residual information into the new mediated virtual surfaces, revealing traces of the human being within the data of virtual and digital environments. Tactility and the ‘the hand of the cloth’ can be seen within this context as a critical linkage connecting the divide between physical body and digital world. The relationship between body, clothing and environment is highlighted as mutually informative, each impressing upon and influencing the other, and the relationship between physical, digital and virtual states is revealed as similarly symbiotic and dynamic.

Digital materiality , Textiles , Design research , Embodiment , Virtuality , Motion capture , Cloth dynamics , Future fashion
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