Serving & connecting
Parallel practices is a project that has been running art residencies since its initiation in 2014 and aims to demonstrate the mutual benefits and value of collaboration between medical and scientific academics and makers. The project forms one part of the Crafts Council's Innovation strand and is supported by the university's Culture team.
The 2014 pilot project consisted of four collaborations, with each lasting four months and involving a team of at least one maker and one medical and scientific academic. These pairings stimulated learning and innovation through a focus on the body, materials and processes.
One of the four partnerships was between textile maker Karina Thomas and Dr Matthew Howard, Lecturer in Informatics. During the project, titled Muscles: getting a stitch, Karina collaborated with Informatics research students and created garment parts that were able to capture movements and electrical impulses through bespoke technological components sewn into the fabric.
By working in collaboration with staff and students in the Department of Informatics, Karina constructed a series of garment parts that used embroidered circuits to capture biomedical data, such as the movements of the wearer and the electrical impulses in the muscles causing the movement. The bespoke circuits were made from conductive thread and components that were as small and as flexible as possible so as not to be too obtrusive to the wearer.
The data collected took two forms: EMGs (electrical muscle impulses) and movement sensors that indicate how a joint flexes and moves. Karina and the students firstly created functioning prototypes. Karina would make samples in response to a task that would then be tested by the students who made suggestions for improvement.
Through these trials of the garment pieces, Karina and the students were able to create sensors that would pick up an EMG signal and transfer it via thread, press studs and wire to processors allowing the movements of a human arm to be replicated by a robot arm. The team also managed to make cuffs and patches of printed circuit boards, gyroscopes and conductive threads that would record movement of a human arm.
Due to its pioneering use of existing technology, Karina's residency created a great level of interest amongst the Informatics staff and students. A professor from the department decided to add a textile element to one of his own projects and a student became interested in setting up a start up company making electronic wearables.
There were also important knowledge transfers that allowed the informaticists to recreate some of the textile elements of the sensors and for Karina to apply some electronics to her work. Towards the end of the project it was clear that the maker and the participants had an elementary understanding of each other’s discipline, no longer needing to explain basics to one another.
Regarding the residency, Karina said: 'the impact on my practice has been profound in terms of the potential of e-textiles and soft circuits and in terms of the precise way of working that the processes have demanded. Digital making is often described as the new tool in the toolbox but I would argue that e-textiles are a whole new toolbox. I have a basic knowledge of the field but I can see the potential that the technology has to animate the surface of my work or to enable a level of audience interaction with my work.'
As well as being in residence at King's, Karina has also produced work for the Paths to Utopia exhibition, as part of UTOPIA 2016 at Somerset House, which was shown in the Inigo Rooms from 1 July 2016 to 2 October 2016.
Using emerging digital technologies, Karina collaborated with Dr Matthew Howard again to create an interactive textile artwork that explored the topic of in vitro fertilisation (IVF). Karina's sisters two sons, Rufus and Rafe, were born through IVF. When a visitor touched the quilt, Rufus and Rafe could be heard singing a lullaby abd, due to the singing being quiet and soft, visitors were invited to place their ear against the fabric, establishing a closer connection with the work.
During the exhibition, Karina and Matthew participated in an in conversation event whereby they discussed the context behind Karina's exhibition piece and also the Parallel practices project that bought them together in 2014.
A film of the in conversation event is available below:
Karina Thompson is a textile artist based in Birmingham and has been exhibiting her work since 1987.
As a result of a research fellowship at Winchester School of Art, Karina began to experiment with the technique called 'slashing' and as a result began to increase the scale of her work. She was shortlisted for Quilt 2004 and became a member of Quilt Art, a collective of some of Europe 's most respected quiltmakers in 2005. Her work was chosen for the catalogue cover of Quilts in time, the opening exhibition of the Quilt Museum in St Anthony's Hall, York in July 2007. Her slashed work was selected for the 4th European Quilt triennial, acCent! UK Art Quilts at the Quilt Museum, Paducah USA and Quilt National '09.
In 2008, she began collaborating with VSM UK Ltd, the UK distributors of Pfaff sewing machines. Building on research that she had started for a commission for the Maxillofacial Outpatients Department at Salisbury District Hospital she began to translate medical data into digitally programmed embroidery. This lead to a commission of 12 pieces funded by Cure Leukeamia for the Centre for Clinical Haematology at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham. It has also be exhibited at ITAB: International TECHstyle Art Biennial, San Jose, California USA and the Craftspace exhibition Made in the Middle currently touring the UK.
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Collaborations and artist residencies across the university
Showcasing collaborations and artist residencies across the university
King's artists in residence within the university's faculties