Nov 18, 2009

Lynn Bennett Carpenter's haptic sensations

Lynn Bennett-Carpenter is a fiber artist based in Detroit. Her work is often interactive, often site-specific, and a number of pieces are wearable, neither proper clothing nor purely functional tools. I asked her specifically about pieces from her "Fittings" series, and from her "Elastic Experiment" works.


image description: two women in active poses, one appearing to "hold" the other in an elastic/fiber harness, both creating and restricting movement.
image description: two women share a single headpiece, a kind of two-person "mask" of woven elastic, the fibers connecting them and also stretching apart.

"At first I made these pieces to see if I could create an artistic experience based solely on the sense of touch," she said. I'm fascinated by the way the works are so tied to the body, but in unexpected ways—turning off the more dominant senses and engaging the skin and proprioception.


image description: a woman wearing an elastic "fitting" that loops underneath both feet, and stretches to an elastic "cap" on the wearer's head.

When I first saw Lynn's work, I immediately thought of TheraSuits, a new technology in use for children with developmental/motor challenges. Originally designed by Russian astronautics researchers, intended to counter the effects of weightlessness in space, the suits are a universal, wearable system:


image description: a child in a whole-body suit, made of elastic panels and connected straps, providing pressure and interplay between and among limbs and extremities.

Lynn wasn't working with adaptive tech in mind, but you can see here the crossover between practicality and play.

Lynn's works have such great ambiguity—they're elastic, so they constrain and confine the wearer one moment, just as they stretch and enhance the body's movement the next. And it's almost like they make the physics of movement suddenly visible—all those relationships among limbs, all the body's weights and counterweights.

As the "fittings" evolved, Lynn says they became "more interactive with the body itself, shaping movement. The sense of touch informs the way the body moves within the fittings—as the body pushes against the elastic limit, and its subsequent release."



top image: two dance partners, male and female, stretch and pull elastic "cuffs" that connect and their arms, legs, hands by multiple elastic "reins."
bottom image: a single dancer in a white fitting, an elastic harness that wraps around the sternum and stretches to each foot, each hand, and individual fingers.

Lynn worked with the Kingswood Dance Studio, under the direction of Kay Rediers, to create pieces as part of a collaboration and performance this past May.

The intricacy of the pieces made the very process of donning them itself part of the work, Lynn told me. "I know when the dancers were working with my pieces, it was not always easy for them—even just to figure out how to get in and out of them, or what way was the 'right' or 'wrong' way to wear them. But as I watched them or helped them, I found these moments just as meaningful as the final piece."

All images this post, except where noted, copyright Marcelyn Bennett-Carpenter.