This morning when you woke up and got dressed, the clothes you put on were (hopefully) made from tangible materials—cotton, linen, some synthetic polymer fabric, or perhaps, if you were feeling particularly futuristic, your t-shirt might incorporate some e-textiles. But how about waking up and downloading a new face? Perhaps one that consists of elaborately colored geometric shapes—a form of augmented cosmetics that goes way beyond glitter and smoky eyes. That’s the idea explored by designer, artist, and theorist Jenny Lee for her MA in Textile Futures at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, London. Her project, Immateriality: The Future Human, uses augmented reality to explore a post-human aesthetic, where a decorative face (or body) enhancement could be just as common a way to augment your looks as putting on a pair of earrings, or injecting botox into your forehead. As science and technology intrude ever more upon our lives, could digital textiles alter how we look in a fundamental way?
According to Lee, this brave new fashion world will be like a “digital couture service that is tailored to the consumer’s needs, to facilitate the re-design and enhancement of the physical human-self”. And one way she proposes this could happen is with digital skins. These digital skins are like AR growths that cover the wearer in a chosen look triggered by wearing a device, like a ring, that causes the AR to react and form. The new look is added to a wearer’s online profile, which can be updated as often as they like, simply by walking into a store and trying out a new look and then adding it to their database.
So far, so futuristic, but it all seems rather pointless given that the only way to currently see these fantastical designs is through an AR browser on your mobile phone, and that’s a little clunky, to say the least. But once those AR contact lens arrive, the whole world will be superimposed with AR imagery—streets adorned with AR sculptures and adverts, food items with nutritional information, and your girlfriends will be sporting digital makeup, of course.
The images make the wearer look like a strange hybrid creature from a sci-fi flick, covered with triangular forms that turn the human features into quite an alarming vision. But maybe that’s the point, the shock of the new and all that. Well, that and the fact that the look is inspired by mineral crystallizations. A strange choice you may think, but it has its reasons: “Through my research I found that ultimately, with scientific and technological innovation, we could re-design our landscapes utilizing a combination of natural and synthetic means that are inspired by nature, and the way in which it is formed.” says Lee.
So, in a potential future where Lady Gaga’s look is the norm, inspiration could be taken from almost anywhere, from the growth of minerals to interstellar dust clouds, anything would be possible in the new virtual and physical blended world. “If our bodies could radically alter, morph and grow mimicking natural forms, how could they appear? Utilizing chemical processes, I grew natural and synthetic crystals and experimented with morphing and phase-changing materials. These experiments influenced the aesthetics of my designs.”
A collection of digital skins, in the form of mineral crystallizations, that could be purchased for user enhancement.
The notion of crafting a new human form is one that’s usually explored through transhumanism and the idea of the cyborg, but Lee takes the field of AR as the primary medium to alter our perception of ourselves, as opposed to a physical transformation, and thus paints the way for a post-human aesthetic. While the images may look strange, it’s an interesting idea of how fashion and design could merge in the future and manifest science’s idea of a “new future human.” A future where the role of the designer will be manifold, crossing many disciplines, and augmented reality could become a legitimate digital textile with which to accessorize and enhance ourselves.