Stymphalian Birds

In conversation with Audrey Briot.

Making myths come true: independent e-researcher Audrey Briot merges haute couture and new technology, using Stymphalian Birds particular feathers which are good conductors of electricity, used as decoration on clothes as a creative response on social distancing issues in the pandemic context. The traditional feather work is combined with chemistry and electronics exploring the influence of feathers as sensors in our environment and on the body, while proximity and tactile contacts between people has a total new meaning.

When you founded DataPaulette did you have someone who supported you in your desire to invest in the potential of the textile world?
I co-founded DataPaulette in 2014, at that time I was only 19 years old and it was a spontaneous action with my collaborators. With this small group of electronic textile practitioners who were gathering in a Parisian hackerspace, the BlackLoop, to discuss and create things at the crossroads of textiles, craftsmanship and electronics. Each of us were also part of what we call the etextiles community. Sharing skills and knowledge are core values for the hackerspace and the etextile communities but no hackerspace dedicated to etextiles was yet in existence. The support of this community to which we contribute daily led us to create this long-term etextile lab. DataPaulette which was from the beginning an independent laboratory focusing on research and development in textiles and digital technologies and later evolved from an initial structure of hackerspace to become a collective in order to highlight the collaboration between its core members. Even if DataPaulette is now run by four of us, we have many individuals contributing to the project and our ongoing researches at different levels; mutual support and collaboration are the key for us. At last, I have always been encouraged by my family to carry out my ideas as far as possible, even more if they are at the fringe, and for that reason, we named the space and collective DataPaulette, to reflect the spirit of our research, combining data with traditional craftsmanship but also as a tribute to my grand-mother.

What kind of study background did you have to be this so skilled in both designing and making your creations?
I started with a baccalaureate in Sciences and Technologies of Design and Applied Arts acquired as an independent candidate. To graduate, I did my first project re-working traditional costumes and techniques with electronics to emphasize the wearer’s freedom of speech. After that I headed for a degree in textile, material and surface design in Paris to learn textile craftsmanship and techniques and revisit them by incorporating electronics and smart materials. Back in those days, I was already defending technologies that will not distort the textile heritage but will preserve and perpetuate it. In parallel to this degree, I co-founded DataPaulette and I quickly started giving workshops, attending residencies and making R&D for clients. I have always been more confortable as a professional than as a student but I never denied the knowledge that has been given to me. People I met gave me a foretaste of the richness of textiles and I delved into these different techniques from my side combining what I had heard about with things read in books or archives; this perseverance is what has made me self-taught. During my post graduate diploma in fashion design and environment I realized that the DataPaulette hackerspace and my ongoing projects on non-verbal communication were the result of the path I have taken up to now. My actual long term research took shape through my residencies and the development of my projects. My interest for textile craftsmanship is always growing and collaboration is at the center of my work since the beginning.

How do you manage to make your clothes, to look like couture garments and not scientific prototypes? The lightness of the clothes, the technoembroidery, it’s pretty impressive!
I have always been convinced that electronics and textiles not only reflect science fiction but also traditional crafts like goldwork embroidery or tapestry. Mastering textile craftsmanship and traditional techniques such as featherwork, embroidery and natural dyeing can contribute to deepen the field of possibilities in electronics. The universe I build around Stymphalian Birds is based on my conception of that myth and focuses on the intrinsic responsiveness of elements created by nature that are feathers. They offer an experience by themselves, thanks to their capacity to react to touch, their flexibility like a spring, their softness and their delicate shape and details. The combination of this beauty with the chemical treatment and electronics now enhances the experience, transforming the feather into a light and playful sensor able to detect touch and to respond to it by feedback. I pay great care to the specific needs of the feathers in the chemical treatment and acquiring the methods of traditional handcrafts was primordial to preserve the natural aspect of these now conductive feathers. Each dress is a flexible circuit in itself in which wires and sensors are ornements. The circuit has been designed in advance following the pattern of the garment and is transferred to the textile which has been previously stretched onto the embroidery frame. All the circuit is built on the embroidery frame, its construction is a continual exchange between electronics and textile craftsmanship. For exemple, the conductive feathers are connected in the circuit using the standard electronic method of wire wrapping and subsequently their connecting wires are laid out according to the circuit and embroidered using a Lunéville crochet. I combine traditional handcrafts such as featherwork and Lunéville embroidery with digital technologies and chemical processes to magnify the possibilities of the feathers and give birth to electronic featherwork. I love the polyvalence of my work which is standing between scientific research and fashion.

Can you tell us the practical aspect of these dresses? Is it possible to wash them? How long does the chemical treatment on feathers last?
These dresses explore the combination of fibers created by nature, silk and feathers, with technologies created by man to sense beyond the skin introducing the immediate periphery of the body as an interface. The combination of electronic circuits with the physical transformation of the feathers by the introduction of electrical conductivity will now permit these organic flexible sensors to detect touch and respond to it by sound due to previous programming. Wearing these dresses offer an ultimate experience to perceive ones immediate environment through hybrid feathers as sensors. Each feather is unique and each feather tip appears as a suspended electrode above the textile. When an external body approaches these newly created biometric sensors will be the first in contact. These feathers are now covered with a thin layer of carbon which will never leave for any reason. It’s part of their structure, they are carbon-covered feathers. The dresses are embedded with electronic circuits and washing them is not a problem, simply the electronics may be removed to avoid damage. To allowed the feathers to keep their initial aspect they will require specific care that I learned alongside plumassiers or by digging into archives. Stymphalian Birds invites us to reconsider interactions of living beings with their environment by introducing the immediate periphery of the body as an interface. The wearing of these dresses allows us to become a cyber organism, broadening our experience to get beyond our physical and social boundaries. The project took another dimension with the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic reshaping our everyday interactions, while the dresses propose to amplify our touch sensitivity, social distancing guidelines must be followed, proximity between people and tactile contacts appear as an even more sensitive issue.

Have you started working on this project because you were fascinated by the mythologic meaning of the Stymphalian birds? Or it was just an inspiration for what you would have liked to do anyhow? The dangerous beauty of the Stymphalian bird myth, is something that characterizes your kind of woman?
I learned about this myth many years ago when I was a teen. I kept the story in my mind since then and these birds have always intrigued me. I had so many questions regarding these animals. Myths are very challenging for me and I have always been wondering how I could make this myth come true ? The feathers of the original Stymphalian Birds express my expectations: though the feathers themselves might appear mundane, their material properties make them extraordinary. These conductive feathers become sensors which react to touch by emitting sounds.

Stymphalian Birds

Credits:

Designer: Audrey Briot /  @audrey.briot
Interview: Silvia Valente / @silviavalentevi
Photo : Anna Le Chah / @annalechah
Stylist: Martin Bady / @safre___
MUA : Alexia Amzallag / @alexiamzallag
Models: Ines & Souha /@inespttr & @souhabaylik
Video & edit: Thomas Daeffler / @thomas_daeffler
Dop: Thomas Wood
Composition: Théo Bedoucha
Mastering: Sean Henry
Producer: William Hearsey
Grip: Marc Droumaguet
Production: FortLee
Special: Genial Pictures

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