Libraries are amongst the most magical of places. Indeed, they have changed somewhat to incorporate the shifts in the way we access information, and the way we share it, evolving into information hubs and network centres; but they still have books; books that despite content, have dimension and weight. Evident in the minuscule mangling of pages and bindings lay the history of hundreds, if not thousands, of inquisitive, interested borrowers who unconsciously caressed each leaf corner with certain sensuality, until the words ran out and the page got flicked. Jilted maybe, returned most likely; the books I speak of are compressed into rank and file, but if we find what we want – we can reach out and touch it.
Fitting really that Sonja Hindrum’s Talking Skirt should find itself located centre stage in Launceston’s Learning and Information Network Centre (LINC). Developed during a residency under arts@work’s 2011 AIR program, Sonja Hindrum worked with students from Queechy High School to explore ideas of wearable art and how communication is achieved through textiles. These are wonderful, imaginative explorations that I find particularly engaging because of the potential. We are already familiar with touch-screens and digital content, but Talking Skirt peels back the flash-bang visuals and introduces the idea of a tactile experience by combining touch with poetry. For me, this is using tech to re-connect with something a great deal more emotional. On first encounter I saw that the skirt is, outwardly, not fancy at all, the retro bust that sits above is angular and uninviting, but nearby are two white cotton gloves and instructions. I am like a cat.
Featuring poetry from Mark Tredinninck, Dierdre Kessler and Ray Liversidge the written instructions inform me that I can activate their poems by wearing the gloves and leafing through the skirt pleats as I would the pages of a book. For some reason, I knelt down and gently ran my fingers across the fabric…
(insert record-scratching here)
Arghh! What went wrong?
Well, in one sense, nothing. It was beautifully reactive and did as I hoped it would. Heart by Ray Liversidge began to recite itself to me and the words were masterful. But, on a rather unexpected note – it was loud! All of a sudden, in what I imagined would be an intimate and interesting new media experience just turned a bit awkward. Those in LINC at the time who didn’t know what the dress was suddenly turned to see me, a thirty-something, on my knees in front of a headless mannequin wearing gloves with my hand inserted in the folds of its skirt. Not to mention the blaring vocals of a poem entitled Heart. You get the rest.
Don’t get me wrong, Talking Dress (Prototype) is an inventive and interesting artwork (also made possible by the electronics of Paul Alting van Geusau), and if this is a prototype then I am rapidly awaiting further development, simply to see where this thing goes. As it stands, it is beautiful in its rawness and the poetry it emits evocative of the need to touch, of all things, a skirt. However, my only thoughts that dip into criticism are that I felt (emphasis on I…) that during JAF it needs a space that allows for further engagement open to the inquisitive bystander, not the disgruntled one. That said, Talking Skirt is clever, interesting and unashamed in its infancy. A highlight, for more reasons than one!