Descience: Research on the Runway

What happens when you try to use art to explain science?

A week ago if you had said the word “fashion” to me, my first thought would not have been “science.”  But, in the midst of Boston Fashion Week and in the wake of the Descience fashion show it is hard not to recognize how transformational a union between scientific research and fashion, or any type of art, can be.

Descience was created as a way to bring together different members of the global science and design communities.  According to their website the idea was to foster interdisciplinary learning by using fashion to explore science and science to inspire fashion.

With teams featuring members from all over the world.  The process happened in several steps.  First, the interested scientists submitted images of their work to be considered for collaboration.  Then those chosen were shopped for by potential designers and eventually matched with one to become a pair.   Once the final designer-scientist pairing was made the teams were finalized and they were left to connect with each other on their own and the collaboration process began.

As the evening got underway visitors filled the main gallery on the 6th floor of the MIT Media Lab and slowly filed into the staging area for the runway portion of the show.  The mood was cool and the music was ambient, with pink flourescent lights accenting the periphery as the show got underway.   After a brief introduction by the Descience organizers the models began to walk.  The show was fluid and electrifying, it was also livestreamed onto two large screens in the main gallery for those who didn’t fit into the runway area.  The unique creations were strange, beautiful, inspired, and unexpected.  They were the kind of far reaching conceptualizations that embodied the spirit of experimentation and which you would expect to find in a place like the MIT Media Lab which is known for the kind of forward thinking, boundary pushing and interdisciplinary collaboration that Descience aims for.

After the show the models filled the main gallery and stood as interactive displays for much of the evening.  There was wine, food, music and photographers everywhere.  Everybody had questions and the designers and scientists present were ebullient with their answers.   Designers like Margaret Jackson of Team Interwoven spoke in detail about her process of trial and error during the fabrication of her design.  Creating the large orange sphere sounded labour intensive and involved wrapping an extra-large beach ball with lots and lots of carpet yarn and transparent paper and then coating it in Modge Podge, which is frequently used for decoupage.  She also made the top which was created using photosensitive dye that she exposed to sunlight with pieces of the “dress” on it to create a delicate pattern.

Exploring the intersection between art and science I’ve come across some incredible things  Through mediums like photography, sculpture, film, interpretative dance and now fashion the marriage of science and art has been establishing a foothold in the world of contemporary art and technology as SciArt.  Although I’m not sure I could say any of the designs were something I would wear to a dinner party, they did have a sense of being avante garde.

With Boston Fashion Week currently underway I think it’s important to continue to expand the way we think about the relationship between tactile art and science.  Ultimately I think Descience: Research on the Runway was innovative, inspiring and a little bit mind blowing and for anyone who is interested in art, design, science or technology this is the kind of collaboration that should whet your appetite, I know it did mine.