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Translating Computer Algorithms into Tangible Fabrics

Phillip Stearns creates pillows, tapestries, and other cozy objects from computational processes.

Computational Textiles by Phillip David Stearn (all images courtesy the artist)

Digital complexity is turned into the comforts of home in this new series by artist Phillip Stearns, which offers up for sale pillows, tapestries, and other cozy objects woven from textiles that reflect computational processes. Computational Textiles features dynamic fabrics that come in all sorts of warping and pixelated patterns; rather than imagined through sketches or other hand-drawn prototypes, these designs and forms were all created in code Stearns wrote and then woven together by a computerized Jacquard loom. The results technically relay data, although they appear as simple geometric patterns or even dreamy, painterly compositions.

Computational Textiles pillow by Phillip David Stearns

Stearns has been making textiles inspired by the digital world for a number of years: In 2012 he founded Glitch Textiles, which wove images of digital malfunctions compiled from his Year of the Glitch project. This newest series looks more broadly at computer algorithms for inspiration, making visible the systems that typically operate unseen.

“Computational Textiles is my project to further explore the discipline of weaving and the medium of textiles as vehicles for expressing certain computational processes,” Stearns told Hyperallergic. “To have visual design, structure, and texture derive from common algorithms in operation behind the scenes of our day to day lives.”

Computational Textiles by Phillip David Stearns

The process begins with programming: Stearns writes software that results in an image file, which is then mapped to a palette — a selection of structures that determines details such as color and warp and weft — to create a card file. That file is read by the loom’s computer, which then automatically weaves the fabric. To realize his designs, Stearns received help from the Textiel Lab in the Netherlands’ TextielMuseum in Tilburg.

Stearns is currently fundraising $7,500 for the series on Kickstarter, where rewards for backers include objects woven from the new textiles, from zipper pouches to laptop sleeves to throw blankets. They’re perfect accessories for anyone who loves the internet and all things digital but also values time away from screen. You are, after all, choosing to surround yourself with data turned material. Aside from providing comfort, Stearns hopes that his series will allow people to be more aware of how our digital world is a landscape full of hidden structures.

“Just because we are immersed in digital technologies doesn’t mean that we are in touch with them,” Stearns said. “We are disconnected, and part of this disconnect stems from the fact that digital processes are abstract, immaterial, or not readily visible to us, even if they are there right before our eyes.

“It’s not that I think everything should obviate its digitalness,” he added. “I just enjoy the challenge of expressing something that is invisible and yet has real physical effects, in a tangible form. This way our minds can grasp it in a more intuitive way.”

Computational Textile by Phillip David Stearn
Computational Textiles by Phillip David Stearns
Computational Textile laptop sleeve by Phillip David Stearns
Computational Textile throw pillow by Phillip David Stearns
Computational Textiles by Phillip David Stearns
Loom from the Textielmuseums’s textile lab
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