This week I attended an interdisciplinary conference on the histories of weaving and coding. The aim of the conference was to present practice based research in progress and to discuss anthropological links to the project as a whole. As my interest is in exploring art through anthropological frameworks, I thought it would be useful to see how other practitioners are collaborating on interdisciplinary projects related to practice based research and anthropology.
Weaving codes, Coding weaves
The ‘Weaving codes, Coding weaves‘ seminar took place on 21st October in the School of Music at Leeds University. Organised through a collaboration between Dr Ellen Harlizius-Klück, Centre for Textile Research, Copenhagen; Dave Griffiths, FoAM Kernow; and Dr Alex McLean, University of Leeds, the project aimed to “connect the ancient practice of weaving with the emerging practice of live coding, exploring ways in which ancient mathematical thought may be exposed, as well as forming a rich view of contemporary digital arts.”
The project initiators were joined in the presentation by Professor Tim Ingold of the University of Aberdeen, and explored links between networks of people and technologies from an anthropological perspective. The discussion which followed aimed to explore themes including “the Textility of Making, Penelope’s Loom, the Mathematics of Weaves, Patterns in Computation, and Live Coding”. In the first instance, each of the panel took it in turns to present their individual research focus.
Dr Alex McLean
Dr McLean began by introducing his live coding practice and live coding as a medium in general. The descriptive definition he gave stated that “live coding is an emerging digital arts practice which unravels technology in order to use computer programming languages for live expression, for example to create improvised music.” However, he also provided a much more metaphorical? answer to the question ‘What is live coding?’ by quoting from Rob Myers who described it as “to experience through an unusual aesthetic event what hackers are missing in society and what society is missing in hacking.”
In producing the compositions in real time, the live coder is both responding to current notation and creating further code to be performed, which will in turn become the raw material to which the composer responds. This creates a feedback loop which perfectly describes an emergent artistic research practice, such as the one I am undertaking. These ideas are further discussed in Emma Cocker’s essay ‘Live notation: Reflections on a kairotic practice, where she states: “Like Penelope’s weave, [live] code has the capacity to be unravelled and rewritten as events unfold, [revealing] the rules or codes even as they are being written.”
Dr Ellen Harlizius-Klück
Although the metaphorical connections with weaving were clear in practical and aesthetic terms, the group were also looking for a deeper connection between their research, for example, the relationship between human and mathematical languages. Ideas of mathematics and creativity as a form of knowledge are evident in the work of Dr Harlizius-Klück. Focusing on patterns in the weavings of Ancient Greece, she proposed that “ancient weaving looms may be considered early digital art machines which in Greek Antiquity prefigured concepts of dyadic arithmetic and logic” and that “ancient principles of woven pattern [are] embedded in the very notion of computation.”
These findings were first presented in her work on Ancient Greek meander patterns which, due to their complex design, were always assumed to have been embroidered. Although there were few, if any, surviving textiles from the period, Harlizius-Klück believed that this assumption was illogical and managed to produce a woven meander using a basic loom. She then worked with a developer to create an algorithm that would show the notation of the pattern design. She links the use of the warp and weft in weaving to Euclid’s theories of odd and even, which were developed around 300 BC, and from there to a connection with binary language.
Dave Griffiths’ (FOAM) interest in the project stems from his involvement in citizen science projects, such as http://www.citizensciencealliance.org, and teaching children how to program.
His experience of watching his mother weave as a child while he taught himself to program led him to consider the connections between programming and weaving. This extended through the aesthetic connections between pixels and weave, to understanding how the limitations of the medium impact on the process and product in each case. In particular, he noticed a correlation between the setting up of the loom and of the program;, almost as an end in itself.
As part of his presentation, he also discussed the group’s recent trip to the Centre for Textile Research in Copenhagen. He summarises this visit in the blogpost, ‘Unravelling Technology in Copenhagen’. Here he discusses an interest in the deep history of technology and the tacit knowledge of ancient Greek society. These findings suggested ways in which “weaving provided thinking styles and ordering concepts for the earliest forms of mathematics and science.” This connection between “coding and ‘weaving as thought’ is a subversion of a form of work that is [generally] considered… as entirely utilitarian.”