Thursday, May 23, 2013

E-textiles Broadening Participation and Sewing the Way at Bay Area Maker Faire 2013!

Last weekend, IU Creativity Labs’ Dr. Kylie Peppler and Sophia Bender both presented on e-textiles at the Bay Area Maker Faire’s Maker Education Initiative tent. Both sessions were well attended and produced a great deal of audience interest and participation!

On Saturday, May 18, Kylie spoke about how e-textiles can help broaden the participation of females in the fields of computing and electronics. She presented findings from both her own lab and from colleagues showing that e-textiles are the first computing field dominated by women, and that these materials help to empower girls to take a leadership role in e-textile projects. She also emphasized that e-textiles can be a legitimate computing field in and of itself, without needing to be viewed as a “pathway” for girls to enter into more “traditional” computing fields such as robotics. Finally, she ended with a discussion of the potential for e-textiles to teach youth about circuits more effectively than do traditional materials such as alligator clips, because e-textiles use uninsulated conductive thread and help to make circuitry concepts more embodied and more visible.

Sophia presented on the experiences and best practices for learning circuitry that the lab has developed while conducting e-textile programs with youth. This involves a process of starting with a mini-circuit activity, doing a mini-sewing practice activity, doing the e-textile make itself, and finally sharing and reflecting. The audience then got to try out the mini-circuit activity, attempting to light up one and later multiple LEDs with alligator clips and a 3V coin cell battery. In the process, they learned--just as youth in our workshops do--about series and parallel circuits, current flow, and voltage. This then prepares youth to work with circuits in their e-textile project.

Sophia ended her talk with five lessons gleaned from our experiences with e-textile workshops:

  1. Build from kids’ existing understandings and give them tools, materials, and activities to shape new understandings.
  2. Privilege the technology and crafting aspects equally.
  3. Give kids the language they need to understand what they’re discovering as they explore the materials.
  4. Provide making activities that allow for multiple solutions and personalization.
  5. People who work across diverse sets of materials are better prepared to work with formalisms.

The Maker Faire was a wonderful, inspiring experience, and Kylie and Sophia appreciated the opportunity to spread the word about e-textiles there. Thank you to Maker Ed for inviting and welcoming us!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Education Day at the Bay Area Maker Faire 2013

On May 16, two days before the Bay Area Maker Faire, Sophia Bender and Christian McKay from the IU Creativity Labs presented two hands-on projects to educators who attended the Educator Meetup at Maker Faire’s Education Day.

Sophia ran an e-textile table, where educators learned about the educational potential of e-textile materials, sewed their own soft circuits, and saw a demonstration of a program for the LilyPad Arduino ProtoSnap Board. Educators used conductive thread to sew an LED and a switch into a square of fabric, and then lit up the room!

The e-textile station was busy all afternoon, with at least 15 educators sewing circuits, and many others stopping by to observe and chat. Sometimes they would ask for advice about running e-textile activities for youth, some told Sophia about plans to use e-textiles in their classrooms or after-school clubs, and one teacher remarked, “The LilyPad is the Arduino for pretty things! Arduinos don’t have to be only for those ugly robots!”

At Christian’s table, the educators got to play with Makey Makeys and create their own interactive books, using graphite pencil lines and their own bodies to control events occurring on a computer. To find out more about Christian’s interactive book project, check out his blog post about it here:

Saturday, May 18, 2013

E-Fashion Design at IU!

The Indiana University Creativity Labs have been busy lately with several E-Fashion Design workshops for youth. We ran two e-cuff workshops for Girl Scouts who ranged in age from about 9 to well in their teens, with a few adults participating too!

The scouts designed bracelets out of felt, into which they sewed 3-4 LilyPad LEDs of various colors, connecting them to a 3V coin cell battery with conductive thread. A metal snap acted as a switch for the bracelet. The girls learned about putting circuits in parallel, because in order to get all those LEDs to light up, they had to sew them in parallel. They also learned how a circuit must be a complete loop, since their bracelets only worked when they closed the snap and completed the loop of the circuit. And finally (with help from volunteer facilitators), they learned debugging skills when they ran into problems with their circuits, such as shorts. At the end, each scout received a Fashion badge.

The lab also provided an Electrici-Tee workshop for several girls in the Girls in STEM Science Saturdays program, sponsored by the university’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs (DEMA). Several middle-school girls used conductive thread to sew a LilyPad LED and an on-off switch into a t-shirt, powered by a 3V coin cell battery. Besides also learning what the Girl Scouts learned, these girls appreciated the chance to personalize their shirts with decorations, and the opportunity to learn how to sew, which many of them were previously unfamiliar with.

The adults who accompanied the girls to this program hadn’t been expecting to sew a circuit of their own, but we had enough materials to let them participate too!

Special thanks to all the sponsors and volunteers who helped make these workshops possible. We greatly appreciate your support of these programs that help to expand interest in and learning of STEM concepts through hands-on making!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Perfect Night for eCrafting

May 6, 2013 - Friday night, April 26, was cool but clear—the perfect night for gazing at the stars and making eCrafts.
GSE professor Yasmin Kafai taught a delighted group of children and adults how to embed fabrics with electronic components during Astronomy Night in Franklin Square.  The Square was one of dozens of venues around Philadelphia devoted to stargazing that night, but the only one offering instruction in eCrafting. 

eCrafting integrates electronic components into traditional craftwork, especially using textiles such as fabric, felt, or canvas.  Dr. Kafai, a Professor of Teaching, Learning, and Literacy at GSE as well as Professor of Learning Sciences and Information Science at Penn’s School of Engineering, uses eCrafting as a tool to encourage young people—especially girls and young women—to learn about computing.  The electronic components, including LEDs, sensors, conductive threads, and microprocessors, are programmable so the craft project becomes conductive and responsive to input. 

The event was part of the annual celebration of science known as the Philadelphia Science Festival.  Part of a national movement to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers, the Festival offers free lectures, hands-on activities, and special exhibits.  More than 55 institutions, led by The Franklin Institute, support the Festival, funded in part by the National Science Foundation.

Dr. Kafai’s work has been instrumental in launching youth digital media design activities and communities for learning.  Last year, the National Science Foundation awarded her a $500,000 grant for a project that engages students in collaborative projects involving digital media design and computer science. She serves as Principal Investigator for the project, which also involves Penn Design Assistant Professor Orkan Telhan and The Franklin Institute’s Director of Educational Technology, Karen Elinich. 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Rope Wrangler, Ideas Unfurling

Orly Genger, in Madison Square Park

Ruth Fremson/The New York Times
Orly Genger in her studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. More Photos »

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“If I could put my body into my work,” Orly Genger likes to say, “that would be the ultimate.”
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Some might argue that she does that already in her sculptures. Over the last 10 years, Ms. Genger has become known for creating ambitious installations from seemingly endless coils of rope that she crochets and teases into shapes that recall Modern masterworks.
In 2007 she filled a Chelsea gallery with 250,000 feet of knotted, paint-saturated rope, creating a black, lava-y environment that suggested Walter de Maria’s “Earth Room.” The next year, using similar materials, she built an even larger installation for the lobby of the Indianapolis Museum of Art — a sly take on the aggressive metal stacks and cubes of Minimalists like Tony Smith and Donald Judd. In 2010, for a show at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, Mass., Ms. Genger used 100 miles of red painted rope to create “Big Boss,” an 11.5-foot-high stack that burst through a gallery wall and bubbled over for 28 feet into an adjoining room — a giant Color Field painting run amok.
Now Ms. Genger, 34, has delivered her largest and most labor-intensive work yet, a public sculpture in Madison Square Park called “Red, Yellow and Blue.” On view through Sept. 8, it’s made of 1.4 million feet of hand-crocheted lobster-fishing rope, which she has used to create three towering enclosures, each painted a different primary color. Seen from afar, their undulating walls arch up into the trees, suggesting a mash-up of a Richard Serra’s “Torqued Ellipse,” a psychedelic cityscape by Peter Max and a Claes Oldenburg-esque layer cake.
Covering three separate lawns in the park — some 4,500 square feet — the project is the Madison Square Park Conservancy’s largest to date. More remarkable, Ms. Genger has handled practically every inch of its materials herself. For the last two years, she and a team of assistants, most of them young women, have spent almost every day in her studio cleaning lobster claws and fish bones out of the rope and crocheting it into the chunky scarflike strips, some 150 feet long, that she used as building blocks.
“I like getting dirty,” Ms. Genger said recently. “It makes me feel like there’s more freedom to break rules.”
And on a cloudy day last month, Ms. Genger got dirty with a different crew, this one made up of burly young men who dragged and piled nearly 200 of those strips onto steel supports to create the wavy wall of the red enclosure. Passers-by stopped to stare and take photographs, while Debbie Landau, the director of the conservancy, fretted that the artist, who is just over 5 feet tall, might be pushing herself too hard.
Yet Ms. Genger seemed elated. Usually “I’m the first one to see flaws in my work,” she said later, as she led the way into the blue piece, which had just been painted. “But look at this — it’s electric.”
Around her, the brilliantly colored rope walls looked as if they were writhing. After two years of intense production, sculpturing the work in public was “the fun part,” she added. “It’s frightening and exciting at the same time.”
She had good reason to be excited. Not only is this Ms. Genger’s first major public sculpture in the city where she was born and raised, but she has two other collections on view as well. The dealer Larissa Goldston is showing “Iron Maiden,” a group of small metal sculptures cast from superhero figurines and rope, in a pop-up space at 530 West 24th Street through June 22.
Ms. Genger also makes knotted rope jewelry in collaboration with the designer Jaclyn Mayer, and their latest line, also inspired by “Red, Yellow and Blue,” recently had its debut online at the design showcase Grey Area.
As for the installation, it will become the first Madison Square Park commission to travel: Ms. Genger will reinstall it in October at the deCordova Sculpture Park in Lincoln, Mass., where it will remain for a year.
For Ms. Genger’s supporters, the attention seems well earned. Susan Cross, the Mass MoCA curator who commissioned the massive red piece “Big Boss,” called her “a force of nature,” adding that her work has broad popular appeal.
“Everyone can relate to it, even though it’s this overwhelming size,” Ms. Cross said. “You see that it’s rope, but you understand the labor involved. I think that really pulls people in.”
Lisa Freiman, who heads the department of contemporary art at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, singles out Ms. Genger’s savvy reworking of art history.
“I really see her as one of the most important sculptors working today,” she said. From the start, she noted, Ms. Genger has been “taking on classic Minimalist and Postminimalist and feminist art at the same time, and doing it in a completely original way.”
Building each piece is something of “an endurance performance,” said Ms. Freiman, who describes the artist as “one of the toughest makers I know.”
Yet by her own account, Ms. Genger did not start out that way. Growing up in New York City with parents who collected modern art, she said, she was so shy that she rarely spoke until she was 12. Instead, she said, she drew: “It was kind of a safe space. It was always the thing I felt that I could do well.”
When she discovered sculpture as an undergraduate at Brown University, Ms. Genger became obsessed, spending hour upon hour in her studio. “I was really drawn to working with my hands,” she said. “It was more about using my body as the tool and having a direct relationship with the material.”
At first she focused on collecting found objects like chairs and brooms and encasing them in gobs of white plaster. Then, during a postbaccalaureate course at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she began playing around with yarn, using her hands to make chains and slip knots. Soon she was creating sculpture that recalled the craft-based work of 1970s feminist artists like Harmony Hammond and Faith Wilding.
After returning to New York, Ms. Genger had her first show at the Stefan Stux Gallery in Chelsea, and her career began to take off. Some of those early pieces prefigured the more severe forms of the work she is making today, like a six-foot-high stack of droopy white rectangles, or a spiraling dark-green floor piece fashioned from a long crocheted strip several times her own height.
Her work took another leap in 2004, when she built her first outdoor piece for the Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, Queens. Forced to find a material that would be more weather-resistant than wool, she discovered mountain-climbing rope. The resultingconstruction, a green phallic-looking column that rises 15 feet from two puddles of purple and green rope on the ground, fired Ms. Genger with new ambition.
After that, she said, “I became more interested in the heft of the material and the massiveness that it gave to the piece.”
Then came the Earthwork-like installation at Ms. Goldston’s gallery, the forbidding Minimalist sculptures in Indianapolis and the eight-ton “Big Boss.” For “Big Boss,” Ms. Genger said, “I wanted to make a piece where the minimal and the very organic both could coexist, and where you felt that they needed each other.”
Not long after that installation” went up, Ms. Landau, the Madison Square Park Conservancy director, stumbled across an outdoor piece by Ms. Genger at the 2010 Pulse Miami fair: a group of white Judd-style columns that the artist had toppled onto a grassy lawn, transforming them into curvy lounge chairs. Once she was standing “within the work, touching it,” Ms. Landau said, “the light bulb went off: how wonderful and different it would be to have Orly’s work intersecting with the park.”
Ms. Genger’s plans were presented to the conservancy’s board the next spring. One early idea involved filling the park’s central lawn with mounds of red rope, but she ultimately decided to transform three smaller lawns into rooms instead. Besides “giving the park some verticality” by building walls, Ms. Genger said, “I wanted to create spaces where people felt held.”
She also wanted to explore the “very, very fine line between being contained and feeling like you’re suffocating” and “feeling contained and safe.”
Then came the task of procuring 50 tons of rope, and quickly, so she could get to work. By then Ms. Genger’s installations had become so large that she had shifted away from climbing rope “because of its cost,” she said. But during the construction of “Big Boss” (some of whose materials were recycled into the current piece), Mass MoCA had discovered a cheaper source: the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation, which has become an informal clearinghouse for the worn-out ground line used by fishermen up and down the New England seaboard.
Channon Jones, 40, a third-generation Maine lobsterman who was one of the largest contributors to the piece, recently observed that Ms. Genger had probably wrangled more rope than he had. “Maybe in my lifetime as a fisherman I might have used that much rope altogether,” he said, “but not all in one place.”
Ms. Genger savors that sense of accumulation, too. “I stand here and I feel the past two years of my life — every knot. It’s a physical manifestation of time.”

A 2010 installation at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.

Published NYT 05032013