This article was originally published on June 10, 2014 but we think it still rocks!
In Mexico, where the minimum wage averages less than $5 a day, being visited by Amor Muñoz and her giant white bike-trailer is like winning a small lottery. Rolling into the working class barrios in places like Mexico City and Campeche, Muñoz flips its panels and doors, opens up a shelved work station, and hires members of the crowd at an undeniable hourly rate. By the end of the day, once the commissioned work has been done, she packs it all up and moves onto the next destination.
As ephemeral as it seems, it’s actually part of a long-term project called Maquila Region 4 (MA4), which Muñoz started in 2012. Inspired by the operations of Mexican-American border town factories, known as maquilas, this “performative intervention” gives residents in marginalized areas of Mexican cities the chance to work for $7.50 an hour.
The work involved is an extension of Muñoz’s ongoing fascination with blending electronic and artisanal technologies. If you’re lucky enough to get contracted by a visiting MA4 unit (you literally have to sign a contract), you’re then assigned to a unique project: sewing conductive thread into cloth, to create fully functioning, textile-based circuit panels.
The socioeconomic disparities probed by this project makes it one of the finest examples of art-for-social change. And it’s only one in a line of Muñoz’s experiments that aim to shatter the class-oriented divide between traditional Mexican crafts like embroidering and sewing, and costly electronic technologies.
How functional can an electronic textile actually be? Pretty functional, it turns out. Take a look at Esquemáticos (2011), one of Muñoz’s projects that prefaced MA4. It’s a series of five different sound-generating electronic textiles, each of which were hand sewn based off Munoz’s schematic drawings (hence the name).
One piece, for example, emits the sound of a siren and radiates with patches of color when you take a drink of alcohol and blow into its attached breathalyzer. Another oscillates a high-pitched radio frequency while you draw on a piece of paper that’s rigged up to its circuits. See both, along with another three cloth devices, in the video below:
Keep updated with Muñoz over at her website. There, she’s already been posting snippets of information about her next project. Photovoltaic panels appear sewn into fabrics, essentially creating super portable generators. If you’ve got sunlight and access to lighting infrastructure— yet can’t afford monthly electricity bills (or are simply in a village that’s off the grid)— this could present a means to self-sustainability. It’s called Yuca-Tech, and it has its own blog here.
If it’s as effective in its power generation as it is at being socially aware, it’s just another contribution Muñoz has made to bringing modern world to those without access to it.