24 Aug Glitch: An Inspiring Interview with Textile Designer, Phillip Stearns
We spoke with Phillip Stearns, founder of GlitchTextiles, to discuss his process of taking digitally rendered art and turning it into reality. GlitchTextiles, a brand under Phillip David Stearns LLC, brings the complex language of digital technology to life through tangible, woven textiles. Taking advantage of digital glitches, Stearns utilizes electronic media to create textiles, interactive light & sound performances, and daring art installations. GlitchTextiles are created through the harmonious combination of two separate worlds, science and art.
What was the inspiration/story behind your art?
Since as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to know how the world worked. I was so intensely curious that I would take things apart to see whether I could understand what was going on inside. This idea of opening up, of asking questions, of reverse engineering the material world has led to my interest in exploring the way our technological world is socially constructed. Today I’ve concerned with technology’s disclosive aspects as a means of addressing cultural blindspots.
What does your creative process look like?
Since I work with a lot of different materials and engage in a handful of different practices, my process takes on many forms. When working on GlitchTextiles designs, I start in a number of different ways. The most dramatic involves taking apart digital cameras, short circuiting the electronics and then taking pictures. I’ve also employed data visualization techniques that convert raw binary data into images, revealing both a rich world of patterns and designs that are both familiar and alien at the same time. Increasingly, my process involves time at the computer either doing research, misusing software, or writing my own programs. Once I have my designs woven into fabric, I experiment with formal compositions and juxtapositions by cutting and sewing different fabrics together. These pieces are stretched over a frame to form panels. Recently, I’ve been exploring ways of integrating them as smaller elements within larger installations.
Tell us about glitch textiles being used for fashion. How does this impact your work?
GlitchTextiles was approached by Dior to produce fabric for 4 looks in their Cruise collection. The project wasn’t very demanding from the creative perspective, I was simply asked to produce a series of variations based on designs that were already existing. It was in the coordination with production and logistics that I faced the greatest challenges. Producing nearly a kilometer of fabric for them taught me a lot in terms of GlitchTextiles’s own capacity for production and gave me valuable insight into how to grow the business from selling limited collections of blankets to producing fabric for other industries. For a year after that project, I made attempts to develop fabrics of a higher quality specifically for the fashion market but soon realized the challenges there were not interesting to me. I’m much more comfortable pursuing emerging concepts and processes, methods and approaches, rather than keeping up with trend research on things like design, texture and color. The trends tend to follow the developments, and I’m much happier pursuing directly those developments that may later produce trends.
What technology trends are you seeing?
I see advancements in Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) technologies behind developments in machine learning, cryptocurrencies, augmented and virtual reality, and molecular biology. In the design world I’m seeing a lot of computer renderings, typically reserved for investment pitches, now replacing actual product shots in marketing. There is an increasingly imperceptible crossing over between the worlds we inhabit as beings with bodies and the worlds that inhabit our psyches through media and communications technology. For a while it was hip to point out the cross over from the so called virtual into the real. Glitch art, low poly or big pixel graphics really exemplified this trend towards embracing the hard edges of digital and their sometimes rude appearances in our daily lives (specifically in regards to glitches). Now I get the sense that we’ve become so good at reproducing the real in the virtual, that our vision has been warped. We are increasingly unaware of or blind to those moments when the virtual has played a fundamental role in all aspects of materializing out current physical reality. Perhaps there will emerge an aesthetic of the uncanny valley.
How would you describe your upcoming computational textiles project?
The computational textiles project is an extension of the GlitchTextiles project. Where GlitchTextiles is concerned with the materialization of glitches, errors, artifacts and digital aesthetics in fabric, Computational Textiles is more concerned with creating expressions of computation through the discipline of weaving, recognizing of course this idea that fabrics are already in a way computational.
Since my first visit the the TextielLab in the Netherlands, I’ve been working on developing fabrics that explore this link between computer science, algorithms, code, and weaving, structure, textures and patterns.
The concept of computational textiles has been the key driving force behind newly created fabrics for interior and fashion applications ranging from impossibly smooth woven gradients to surprisingly organic structural designs produced by artificial life algorithms. I’m even exploring tools commonly used to develop simulated textures in 3D rendering programs in order to generate designs and structures.
The Computational Textiles project will be my primary focus in the coming months. I’m in the process of developing a new collection of fabrics to launch under a new label. As part of that effort, I’m working with Pure Country Weavers in North Carolina to setup further development and production in the US. It’s my hope that out of this arrangement we might be able to establish a research and development lab for artists and designers. You’d be surprised how few resources there are for artists and designers to work with modern weaving technologies. I see great potential in lowering the barrier for entry to creative exploration and want to help make the tools I find so inspiring to work with more accessible to brilliant creative minds.