Sense of Play and Place
In 2016 I launched INTERKNIT, a knitwear collection born out of a series of residencies at Textiellab in Tilburg, The Netherlands. The textures and abstract surface patterns I developed through knitwear technology referenced women’s lived experiences, from the challenges to the joys they face in their daily lives. It was part of my ongoing research on the female form and its significant place in the arts, culture and history. Each piece combined bold yet delicate textures and patterns, evoking women who break free from expectations and traditions placed on them; one that is at once courageous yet fragile. This was reflected in the combination of colored yarns in varying lengths, weights and textures I used. Synthetic and natural fibers, as well as matte and shiny finishes, were fused together to capture the infinite possibilities of the female form. The most gratifying aspect of working on the INTERKNIT line, was the pure intuitive joy of playing with materials, textures and technology to make physical intangible feelings and experiences. It is a reminder of the very personal relationship we have with textiles, one that can serve as a second skin to comfort, sooth and tell our stories.
My experience of working on INTERKNIT informs my research and creative development with Fraunhofer IZM, one reflecting our current anxieties, challenges and feelings of isolation. It explores the role design, technology and craft can play in developing new methods of coping and staying connected in uncertain times. This collaborative process requires listening and observing the thoughts and actions of others. It was an observation by Dr. Afia Ofori-Mensa in the New York Times that encouraged me to see ‘TOUCH as INPUT’ and ‘SOUND as OUTPUT.’ “Sometimes I feel like I’m disappearing,” she noted, in reference to coping with feelings of loneliness, while living under Coronavirus lockdowns, by connecting with her surroundings. “I like to pause in the hallway and take a deep breath every time I go out for a walk,” said Dr. Ofori-Mensa, who listened to her neighbour’s recordings of classical and jazz music travelling through the walls that separated them, or taking in the aromas of another neighbour’s cooking. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University who has studied loneliness extensively, noted that social connection is something we biologically crave. “We’re social beings and our bodies respond when we lack the proximity to others,” she said, adding that the new normal prompted by Covid-19 “is a difficult kind of situation where we need to try to still remain socially connected while being physically distant.”
Both Dr. Ofori-Mensa and Holt-Lunstad’s observations prompted my current investigations around this question: How to find peace and comfort through ‘TOUCH’? For many, this period of imposed isolation had been destabilizing but also cathartic, particularly in a world of endless deadlines, travel, packed schedules and social media. As our worlds have slowed down and become smaller, it provides an opportunity to rethink how we live in order to strengthen our primary senses during a time when ‘less can be more.’ The next step in my research will explore the role of embroidery in stimulating other senses beyond sound, such as smell, sight and touch in developing wearable technology and ‘smart’ garments. Einstein once noted, “the only real valuable thing is intuition,” and this intuitive process will continue to inform my research into materials that receive INPUT and share OUTPUT.
Photo Ⓒ: James Prinz for Anke Loh