Research Lab Of Ambiguous Futurology

Sasha Nicole de Koninck, University of Colorado Boulder

Toronto 2021: Storytelling as Relations

The Research Lab of Ambiguous Futurology is concerned about the future of fashion. We are concerned about the future impact of our current production and consumption cycle. We are concerned about the technology we seem so eager to put onto our bodies, but know so little about.

We are living in uncertain times, some might even say, an era of ambiguity. Technology has evolved to the point where appliances in our homes–refrigerators, washing machines, and security systems– are connected to the internet and can communicate with us. This has created an “Internet of Things”, a network of connected devices all talking to one another, sharing intimate data about how we live.

The “Internet of Things” has evolved into the “Internet of Disposable Things.” Our technology has become smaller and cheaper to produce. We no longer need to repair, we only replace. Soon, this connected technology will make it into our clothing. Your t-shirt will talk to your washing machine when it needs washing; the washing machine will talk to your Amazon account when you are low on laundry detergent to wash the t-shirt; your Amazon account will talk to your mirror when it feels it is time you bought a new t-shirt.

Why do we want that?

We now view technology as just as disposable as fast fashion. We see technology and clothing as cheap; we don’t value the labor that goes into their production. We don’t repair a phone when it is broken, or jeans when they tear, we just go to the mall and buy a replacement. Clothing and e-waste sit in giant heaps around the world, off-gassing, unable to be fully processed for recycling. Why do we want to continue in this vicious cycle of planned obsolescence? What is the future we are creating for ourselves?

At the Research Lab of Ambiguous Futurology, we want to change your relationship with fashion objects by rethinking our values around production, materials and care. We cannot control the future. We cannot predict the future. But it is always on our minds. We fantasize and daydream about it. So, tell us about a future. Tell us what is possible in that future. Tell us what events led to this future. Tell us what that future feels like. Tell us what that future sounds like. Tell us what it smells like. Tell us what you expect of your garments in this future. We will make you something to wear for whatever future happens, based on the future you tell us about.

The garments we produce at the lab are called ‘Future Heirlooms’. An heirloom is an object that is traditionally passed down in a family. Sometimes that object can still be used from generation to generation, like jewelry or dishes. Sometimes, however, that object loses its functional use, and is held on to for its sentimental value. What if we brought that sense of sentimental value to all of our objects? What if we treated everything with the same care, from a t-shirt to a wedding dress? Care can be wearing something until it falls apart. Care can be repairing every hole and tear. Care can be taking something apart, and using the materials for another purpose.

At the Research Lab of Ambiguous Futurology, we are interested in the preservation and exploration of traditional textile techniques, combined with unexpected, everyday materials. We work with second hand materials; everyday materials from the hardware store; materials we use in other ways in our everyday lives, that we might not have considered putting on the body before now. We work with what we have, and what is around us.

We are not making garments that will interface with an app on your phone. There are no sensors. No LEDs. Future Heirlooms ask us to rethink our relationship to technology. They ask us to question what technology is. A textile is inherently a technology, and that is the only technology we work with. Our materials are smart in their function and design, but they are not electronic in any form. We want analog relationships. We don’t want our Future Heirlooms to talk to your washing machine, or Amazon account. We want them to spark conversation while you are out buying groceries, or going to the laundromat.

The future is an amorphous thing we cannot grasp, yet we endlessly try to predict and control it. Future Heirlooms are designed with the uncertain future in mind. We associate the idea of an heirloom with longevity. Future Heirlooms are designed to be valued and cared for, for generations. That value and care can take many forms: they can be repaired or restored for future use; they can be recycled to become material for another Future Heirloom; or they can be upcycled and reconfigured into something completely new and different.

Future Heirlooms ask us to rethink what heirlooms are. An heirloom does not have to be an item made with precious materials, it can be whatever is precious to us.

Published: 01/30/2023