Digitalizing performance: The influence of wearable technology on costume design and on the work dynamics of interdisciplinary collaboration

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
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When wearable electronics are used in a costume, they become a tool to expand its basic visual function and explore new, multi-sensory layers. Through technology, the performer’s body breaks the conventional frames and pushes the aesthetics and functions of costume design to the foreground of performance making. This thesis investigates the use of wearable electronics in a costume, their functions and influences on various aspects of the performance making process, specifically on costume design and the work dynamics of interdisciplinary collaboration. The work is based on the application of data captured by a 3D position tracking software to different wearables in a live demo performance, and examines the development of a performance dramaturgy around such material and the performer experience in a costume with embedded technology. As this thesis shows, the functions of technology in the costume made for this project upgraded the performer’s role in the staging, as the performer became the agent who provoked interactions between the stage elements by simply moving around the space. The location of tags embedded in the performance costume was tracked and the position data was used to generate location-related cues that would trigger interactions with the set, sound, lighting and costume lights without any other mediating operator. An interdisciplinary team of students collaborated on creating such a costume as well as the performance, whose narrative was built around the interactions the embedded technology offered. The creative process and results of the project are used as the case-study for this practice-based, design oriented artistic research, providing insights collected through qualitative methods, such as auto-ethnography, observation, and informal semi-structured interviews. Wearable technologies that are becoming part of the costume design process offer possibilities for a new layer of visual or sensorial effects, encourage wider conversations and create unexpected collaborations. They initiate different approaches to the design of a costume and to make performance from an aesthetic and also practical perspective, as the components provide new functions and expressive possibilities, but need to meet certain safety and comfort requirements when embedded. Taking full advantage of the wearable elements requires the costume to take the lead in the performance making process, affecting the work dynamics as a whole, as the collaboration develops around the costume. Such situation creates an opportunity for interdisciplinary team members to work closer together, proposing the purpose, functionality and design elements of the costume, making it a shared domain that supports storytelling.
Pantouvaki, Sofia
Thesis advisor
Pantouvaki, Sofia
Relander, Taina
costume design, wearable electronics, interdisciplinary collaboration, interactive performance, digitalizing performance, position tracking technology