Joey Berzowska shows off a swatch of electric plaid.
Photo by Andrew
by Melanie Takefman
To improve on that fashion nightmare and commercial failure, Berzowska
is creating a material that changes colours using thermochromic ink, or,
in lay terms, ink that changes colour in reaction to heat. This time,
heat comes from a battery, not the human body and can be selectively addressed.
I am working at the intersection of two worlds, she said.
Being able to understand technology and work with it is an intrinsic
part of being creative with new media, she said, yet in her experience
in both worlds, no one is affirming this double-barrelled expertise.
I was really frustrated with this division of the person with the
vision [the artist] and the person who implements the project, she
It also creates what she called gender tensions, as men usually implement
the science of projects designed by women.
With only 40 students accepted out of 150 applicants, the program is
clearly in demand. Only in its first year, the departments administrator,
Michelina Sar-della, hopes to team up with Concordias Inst-itute
for Co-operative Education to give students experience in the work force.
The smoke rising from a brown and green fabric swatch during our interview
shows that electric plaid is a work in progress. Yet Berzowska and her
partner, Margaret Orth, hold a patent on electric plaid, as the first
textile to synthesize thermochromic ink and conductive yarn.
Next to samples of electric plaid is a purse with a circular insert that
changes color. It is one of the first applications of E-Ink, the electronic
ink technology developed at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Media Lab while Berzowska was a student there.
E-Ink animated fashion modules can be incorporated into clothes and accessories
and come with a small battery that lasts about six months. Unlike many
display technologies, the animated fashion modules do not emit light,
but instead rely on black and white ink particles that adhere to electrodes.
Hanging on the wall is a heart that flashes red. Its perfect for
a rave, according to Berzowska.
People generally use the name e-textiles or smart textiles
to refer to a textile that incorporates capabilities for sensing, communication
(usually wireless), power transmission or interconnection technology to
allow sensors or things such as information processing devices to be networked
together within a fabric.
Since she began working with soft technology, Berzowska has been involved
in several projects with e-textiles, including the design of a keyboard
made of fabric. While she avowed that the invention was geeky,
e-textiles are being studied for applications to military and police uniforms.
At Concordia, Berzowska recently challenged her students to find unusual
conductors, like jewelry, to illustrate the potential for simple circuits
and interactive objects in everyday life.
I try to frame technology in a fun way, in a way that underlines
the cool things that you can do with technology.
For more information on DFAR, visit http://digital.concordia.ca.