Patrick Laing's Flying Skirt Light Shade

Patrick Laing's Flying Skirt Light Shade

Watershed has commissioned makers Heidi Hinder, Chloe Meineck and Patrick Laing to research new projects at the intersection of craft, technology and culture.

Watershed has commissioned makers Heidi Hinder, Chloe Meineck and Patrick Laing to research new projects at the intersection of craft, technology and culture. In the last of three updates (yesterday we spoke to Chloe about her music memory box for people with dementia, and on Wednesday we spoke to Heidi about her coins that trigger invaluable experiences), we catch up with Patrick Laing to find out more about his project and his progress.

The three makers are all recipients of Watershed's new Craft and Technology Residencies and they are now at the mid-way point of their work. All three have been posting updates on their experiences of the residencies which you can explore and comment on and there's an opportunity to hear from them all in person (and get up close with their projects!) at a free showcase of their work and development on Thu 28 March.

Patrick Laing - Flying Skirt Light Shade

Patrick with his lamp shade
Patrick Laing, image courtesy of Sophie Mutevelian

At first Patrick Laing’s Flying Skirt Light Shade hangs in a limp felt form from the ceiling, until it is switched on, where upon it begins to rotate and the skirt opens out, silently spinning like a dancer’s. Whilst spinning its shape can be manipulated by touch, just like thrown clay on a potter's wheel. On a basic level, the skirt satisfies the human urge to touch, manipulate or simply observe a fascinating piece of magic. And there are a number of ways the skirt can become even smarter…

Patrick is exploring whether his Flying Skirt Light Shade has the potential to become a playful public experience. What data can he pull in to influence the device? Could smart, networked Skirts in public spaces enable new forms of interaction? Can you create asymmetrical as well as the symmetrical forms you'd expect from a thrown object? And on a practical level, what materials can be used that do not become dirty after consistent use?

The flying skirt in different forms
The many forms of the Flying Skirt Light Shade, image courtesy of Patrick Laing

We caught up with Patrick over skype to get some extra insight into his project:

The flying skirt light shade is a beautiful, tactile creation. How have people responded to it so far? Are people drawn to it?

Yes. There seem to be three groups of people - one group really doesn't want to touch it, the largest group is curious to touch and sculpts gently, and the last group is too aggressive, manipulating the shade without observing how their touch affects its behaviour.

Have you made any progress with the materials and data you'd like to use since your last blog post?

In terms of material, recent tests seem to show (contrary to previous thought) that a heavier material is needed in the lower part of the skirt, and lighter in the top section. The lighter material allows the skirt to dance freely, and the heavier material allows voluptuous organic forms in the lower section, without surface ripples.

We're trying to fathom a way of controlling the shape of the skirt on both its vertical and horizontal axis, and we're experimenting with an electric fan that will allow us to control the shape without touch. Other factors could then be taken into account, for example the proximity of people to the skirt could be sensed and its shape will be altered. We've also been corrupting PC motor fans to control both axes of deformation. The problem we're facing is that all this extra tech quickly becomes an unsightly carbuncle on the design. Mounting the fan in the centre of the shade works best, and once we prototype the bigger shades at 3-5 metres in diameter, it will be a lot easier to mount and hide the necessary technology in the centre.

We've found that a meshed fibre takes colour and projection better than a weave. We're hoping to experiment with projection once we move onto the larger prototypes, creating the physical internal space for the projectors themselves. When an observer touches the fabric, colour could appear at that point and strengthen as the shade turns. Since using a kinect to scan the movement of people, we also like the idea of a number of shades scanning one another to achieve a chain reaction, and a synchronised set of skirts within a public space. We've also pre-ordered a Leap, a more advanced movement controller.

How has the residency helped you develop your ideas, and your practice?
I'm really happy to be doing this residency. In some ways it's just good to get out of London! I'd been looking for a mechanism to get into more of this side of things, and it's so good to work with experts who can realise ideas. I've spent the last ten years distracted by a lot of client work and teaching, and in the last two years I've been able to concentrate more on product work, and this has led to a huge boost in productivity. This residency is providing me with a greater menu of things to explore. Beyond the vital relationships made, it reminds me of simple things like the need to reformat my website so it is tailored towards products, sales and specific viewers.

Join us to find out more and see the results for yourself at the Craft and Technology Residencies Showcase on Thu 28 March at 14:00.