Photo Essays

Wearable Tech that Fits Like a Glove

Detail shot of Kaho Abe’s “Hotaru” power glove (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Kate Hartman, director of the wearable technology research program Social Body Lab, says in her book Make: Wearable Electronics that such technology can “sometimes even start to feel like part of you” through the physical and mental connections the body creates. This principle — that “our bodies are our primary interfaces for the world” — guides many of the pieces on display in Making Patterns, which features electronic and digitally designed costumes.

Making Patterns is the first exhibition at Eyebeam’s residency at the Seaport. Throughout this summer, the space has hosted demo sessions that beta test wearable technologies. Last Saturday, Kaho Abe, the NYU-Poly Game Innovation Lab’s artist-in-residence, hosted a playtest of “Hotaru Prototype #2,” her project’s latest beta version.

In the cooperative game, described by Abe as a “shooting game about holding hands,” one user generates power by wearing gloves that are attached to a Ghostbusters backpack and transfers this power to a partner, who then uses it to fire an LED gauntlet into the air. After powering up, the partners grab one another’s hands; the gauntlet wearer then has 60 sixty seconds to pump his or her fist and fire the gauntlet as many times as possible. “I make these things because I want people to feel powerful,” Abe says about the physicality of her game. She has fitted the gauntlet with adjustable straps to empower a broader range of ages and body types.

A tablet installation featuring information on the sounds waves and data that inspired the design of “A Gesture of Sadness” (click to enlarge)

This latest version abandoned the screen element of “Hotaru”’s previous incarnation, which also employed a laser. Abe says she abandoned the screen to “bring [the game] out here,” into physical reality. Players communicate to one another through pose and performance, generating their own light and sound through their shared kinetic energy.

Eyebeam’s Computational Fashion Fellowship sponsors research into the development of wearable technologies. Abe, the only former fellow involved in the showcase, began developing “Hotaru” through the research she conducted during her 2013 fellowship. The other work on display for Making Patterns consists of garments developed by multidisciplinary teams from both the Social Body Lab and last year’s Computational Fashion Master class. The participating artists, designers, and technologists have developed technologies to interweave cosplay and gameplay or visualize data through 3D-printed designs.

This Thursday at the Seaport, Eyebeam will unveil work by the most recent Computational Fashion Master Class in Remaking Patterns. The showcased projects explore themes such as labor, commerce, and gender, and build upon Making Patterns‘s exploration of self-expression. Like “Hotaru,” these projects encourage wearers to understand their own bodies through games and design.

A playtester powers up the gauntlet’s LED lights
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Kaho Abe, “Hotaru Prototype #1” (2013)
Artist Kaho Abe explains the game “Hotaru”‘s mechanics to a pair of playtesters
Billy Dang, Andrea van Hintum, Hillary Sampliner, “Poseidon” (2014), 3D printed garment composed of moveable scales
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Cici Wu, Bo Kyung Byun, “A Gesture of Sadness” (2014)
Ben Cramer, May-Li Khoe, Danielle Martin, “Tutu” (2014), 3D printed nylon

Making Patterns continues at Eyebeam at the Seaport (117 Beekman Street, Financial District, Mannhattan) through September 17. 

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