The media artist and university lecturer talks about the ethical issues behind emerging technologies and the role of education
Bitch, Stitch Make/Perform is the unique name of London’s most intellectual fashion-tech community. The group is a gathering for artistic, research and practice sharing, and aims to bring together people from different industries to discuss soft-circuits, e-textiles, digital fashion and DIY electronics. Camille Baker, its co-founder, is a seasoned arts-and-tech researcher and pioneer, who lectures at the University for the Creative Arts in Digital Media, collaborates in various tech and performance projects, and is working on two books on technology and art that are due in 2016.
Primarily interested, but not exclusively, in wearable tech as an expressive method for performance art, Camille concentrates in the way technology can be embodied and sensed. “For me it’s not so much about ‘fashion’ as it is about [tech-infused] garments that can be used for performative projects, she says”. Art and tech might have been her initial focus of interest but now Camille concentrates on much more than that. And after ten years of exploring new technologies in art and performance, Camille has also begun a journey to drive the industry with her community via meetups, discussions and workshops for designers, engineers and everybody in between. But the group doesn’t just share opinions and projects – it also shares knowledge. Their latest event, for example, was a workshop on photo and thermo dyes on fabric. This way, Camille and Melissa Coleman’s Stitch, Bitch project will take a role that should probably belong to the universities. “I am in a university that has three or four strong fashion courses but they aren’t focused on wearable technology”, says Camille. “I would like to add an inter-disciplinary MA course on wearable technology & etextiles across the digital, fashion & textiles areas.” Universities are always slow to embark on new roads, she thinks. “It takes time because you have to find experts, and they have to be the people who are on the edge. But actually, these people are either busy making money or trying to get their research recognised, and then it takes time to convince a university that a course is going to bring in students. Universities are businesses too and they need to know if they are going to make any money with this course, ” she reflects.
Additionally, Camille is interested in the ethical issues behind emerging technologies, specifically mobile and wearable technology. “I think that everybody is diving to get technology in part of what they do. We are going so fast but we are not thinking. I think we have to think about the consequences of what we are inventing too,” she explains.
“Right now we are basically data slaves”
One particular issue, with regards to the data gathered by wearable trackers, is of top concern for Camille. “Kate [Kate Sicchio, Camille’s collaborator in Hacking The Body performance research] and I are really interested in what’s happening inside the body, in how we work with body data from different sensors and explore it aesthetically, performatively and creatively,” explains the researcher. “Technology has advanced to certain level where more people can access to it and most technologies have become cheaper, smaller and easier. As more people enter, more people can tackle more problems, so it grows exponentially. I think the moment is right”, says Camille. “As the technology gets smaller, we get closer to the skin and I think that we are starting to colonise the body”, she says, referring to wearable tech. The problems come when the corporations who own the trackers don’t give access to the body data to the public and sell it to marketing companies instead, she thinks. “People at large need to be more informed on data collection and its consequences. Right now we are basically data slaves,” says Camille. “Companies will sell the data to employers of people who want to track their employees, which is all very sinister and unethical.”
On a less grim note, Baker believes that a trend in the field of wearable technology will be ‘ubiquitous computing’. “We will have technology in everything, specially textiles. That’s something that the medical industry is interested in, sports people are interested in it, it has industrial applications… like airlines, for example, can have the seats with smart tech”, she says.”Unfortunately, I think fashion is interested in this technology the least”. Persuading her might take a couple of visits to her meetup.
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