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Techno Textiles: Inner Space to Outer Space

News | July 1, 2008 | By:

An exhibition that touches on many aspects of life, both terrestrial and extraterrestrial.

The Goldstein Museum of Design, University of Minnesota
Through July 27, 2008

So, what does the Muellner Green Roof System have to do with a puffy white bed pillow? Or a bright yellow pendant lamp with a red, cardio sports bra? And, does an orange molded wool bowl have anything in common with a black motorcycle jacket? Frankly, yes. The same thing that Stella McCartney’s tall white Thinsulate boots have to do with an Aortic Arch Graft. Regardless of function and aesthetics, all have been fabricated from uniquely conceived, technological textiles that allow each, variously, to conserve water, oxygenate the body, illuminate a room, monitor a heart rate, be a sustainable container, protect the body from injury and cold, and mend a failing organ. They are also eight of more than 50 examples of the provocative capabilities of an advanced generation of textiles featured in the exhibition, Techno Textiles: Inner Space to Outer Space on view at The Goldstein Museum of Design at the University of Minnesota.

The first clue that Techno Textiles is an uncommon exhibition is the large, sensuous black and white kite-like sculpture suspended in the atrium outside the gallery. Its curvaceous, bowed form displays a shape-shifting profile when seen from different vantage points. Modest in size but big on content, the exhibition, organized by Bruce N. Wright, AIA and editor of Fabric Architecture and Karen LaBat, U of M professor of Apparel and Director of the Human Dimensioning Lab, is packed with information exploring the inner space and outer space properties and functions of these workaholic textiles relative to three categories: the Body, the Built Environment and the Earth. Clearly documented by extended labels and narrative panels (printed on a non-woven fabric called Lutrador, a PCR material made from recycled polyester bottles), Techno Textiles’ impact would be more far-reaching if an exhibition checklist — one that described the function, material make-up, and manufacturer of each object or piece of clothing — was available to the gallery visitor to take home for future reference.

Archiving tendencies aside, Techno Textiles is notable and well worth the visit to understand the future of such textiles and how they are, increasingly, a critical stakeholder in shaping our environment. The breadth of the examples on view, particularly in the area of innovative clothing whether for snow boarders or Will Steger expeditions to the Artic, will sensitize many to the role that rigorously conceived engineered textiles already play. That such textiles are the stuff of athletic gear and vehicle airbags is commonly understood. But their role in space travel, whether as astronauts clothing or inflatable balloons that protect the landing gear of NASA-led Mars rovers, is less so. Technological textiles’ rising important in medical procedures and surgical repair, as well as their sustainable properties and cost benefits over bricks and mortar construction in athletic stadia and building façades, is only now more widely recognized by the broader public.

Provocative and enlightening, Techno Textiles spurs the mind about future possibilities of how such textiles could simultaneously benefit humans’ health and safety and still help repair and sustain the environment. My 2 cents? I think a lightweight, tensile fabric vehicle with comfy ventilated seats and protective airbags that gets 90 mpg, in which I could dart about town wearing my cardio sports bra and Stella McCartney lace-up boots, would do the trick.

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Mason Riddle, a contributing editor for Fabric Architecture, writes frequently about architecture and design. Her piece on public artist Randy Walker appeared in the May/June issue.

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