Suzi Webster is a new media installation artist, that has worked in the fashion-tech field for more than 20 years. Through her love for fashion, clothing and its relation to performance, identity and the body she found that the lightness of fashion complements the often quite serious world of art. By implementing technology into the mixture, she has explored the intrinsic and problematic relationships between fashion and technology.
Inspired by a vision of technology that is soft, woven, and responsive to the body, she describes her first piece Electric Skin, based on the idea of a light-woven fabric that would respond to breath. The development process included a British company called elumin8 that produced silkscreened electroluminescent panels responding to sound, who also sponsored the work. While having difficulties with finding the right technology back then, related to issues with conductive thread and power suppliers, the field has yet to reach her visualisation of future possibilities.
Despite the challenges, the first projects helped her develop skills integral to her practice, for example those related to creative problem solving, team and resource building, and finding ways to realise her vision despite potential limitations. Additionally, due to working at the intersection of art, fashion, technology and science, she has not been recognised as an artist, designer or technologist. Further difficulties have related constraints on longer development times in engineering, understanding of materials, or funding.
Due to the faced challenges, she emphasises the importance of retaining a critical perspective of technologies, while staying true to your artistic vision as allowing yourself to change and evolve. As she takes a creative, hacker approach to repurpose materials and things, Suzi further highlights the greater freedom technologies should give us, instead of giving away the agency, power and independence as a designer or an artist.
Electric Dreams. Image: Suzi Webster
Besides self-development, she has experienced technology catching up with her ideas – Electric Dreams was designed in 2007, with the required technology not yet available. After the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago recently commissioned the piece, Suzi was able to realise the work with the help of programmes and engineers.
In the future, she sees herself and the industry continuing the development on wearables. Suzi has become interested in bio-computing, and has increasingly focused on sustainability issues related to the integration of technologies in the fabric. Her work is published, exhibited and held in permanent collections globally. With over 20 years of experience, she still feels as she is in the beginning of her journey!
Find out more about Suzi's work through her website and see an Electric Skin in the video below.