Meet Katie Rees, who recently joined LCF as a PhD student, and is exploring the potential of wearable technology in the choreographic dance process and audience interaction. Wearables are a hot topic within the fashion and retail sphere and Katie, who will be working in our Digital Anthropology Lab and Design for Performance Research Hub as part of her research, will investigate how data and environmental conditions can be translated into performance.

She is the first researcher to receive a new London College of Fashion and Studio Wayne McGregor PhD Funding Award. The two partner organisations, soon to be neighbours in Stratford’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, will support researchers who want to engage with both dance and fashion, and east London.

Here, Katie tells us how she came to do a PhD, what is involved and why Lady Gaga’s wearable tech costumes are something special in the world of performance and costume.
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Can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from and what you were doing before you went about applying for the PhD?

Before applying for a PhD, I was working as a freelance dance teacher and an examiner. Over the last 15 years I have worked in a number of dance education settings including lecturing at the Royal Academy of Dance, teaching dance in secondary school and also working as a dance company animateur for Rambert Dance Company. I live in Whitstable, which is on the coast of Kent.

How has SWM made a difference to the contemporary dance landscape? What exciting projects or performances have you seen by them?

Wayne McGregor’s work has been hugely influential on the contemporary dance scene, largely due to his commitment to collaboration and curiosity to understand the choreographic potential of the body. I was very interested by his work exhibited at the Wellcome Collection, ‘Thinking with the Body’, particularly Becoming (2013), a digital installation created by digital artists Marc Downie and Nick Rothwell, in collaboration with Scott deLahunta, James Leach with Company Wayne McGregor.

becoming-and-dancers-photo-by-david-bickerstaff-courtesy-of-wellcome-collection-2

Katie was inspired by Becoming – a digital installation as part of Thinking with the Body at the Wellcome Collection; photography by David Bickerstaff, courtesy of Studio Wayne McGregor.

Your research looks at the medium of wearable technology, which has gained a lot of attention within fashion over the last five years. Why are we curious about technology in the context of clothing?

I think mainly because we want to understand more about ourselves and technology enables this in many different ways, whether this is this through our own personal data or through the projection of our feelings. Wearable technology enables new ways to experience life and understand our bodies.

XO collaborated with Studio Wayne McGregor to create the costumes for Atomos. By using their XOX emotional wearable technology, they mapped the dancers biometrics and designed digital skins inspired by each dancers emotional algorithms. Photography by Ravi Deepres, courtesy of Studio Wayne McGregor

XO collaborated with Studio Wayne McGregor to create the costumes for Atomos. By using their XOX emotional wearable technology, they mapped the dancers biometrics and designed digital skins inspired by each dancers emotional algorithms. Photography by Ravi Deepres, courtesy of Studio Wayne McGregor

What technologies specifically, do you hope to explore?

This will be driven largely by what technologies I can use with the dancing body.

Do you plan to design or make wearables?

My background is dance performance and studies, so my interaction in the design process will be from this perspective. I’m hoping to collaborate with designers and engineers in this context.

What is the most exciting breakthrough you’ve seen in the wearable tech field (preferably related to a brand or popular culture)?

I think the work Volantis (2013), created by XO for Lady Gaga was very special. Mainly because Nancy Tilbury and Benjamin Males and their team worked towards making a flying dress a reality!

What methods will you use to explore wearable tech as a tool for choreography and audience experience within performance and dance?

I am interested in the kinesthetic and synesthetic processes; namely, sensation and how our body interprets, responds and interacts with the technology, with other dancers, and the environment.

Wearable technology has historically been marginalised. With cultural figures like Will.I.Am using them, can wearables be repositioned in mainstream culture?

I think there is a case for this becoming a reality, particularly with the development of e-textiles. However, it would require a shift in how we view clothing and their interaction with the body, our environment and of course methods of manufacturing.