De-Formance by Jessica Smarsch

De-Formance is a unique project that investigates the connection between design and movement.

At the 2016 Dutch Design Week, American designer Jessica Smarsch made a triumphant return to the event to exhibit her De-Formance project. An evolution of her 2015 Constructing Connectivity master’s thesis - in which she used digitally captured body movements to inform the raised patterns across a collection of garments - the project’s second iteration saw her work with choreographer Heidi Vierthaler to create a visually arresting narrative thread of the collection's manifestation that includes clothing, a series of stills and a short film.

The original Constructing Connectivity project saw wireless armbands record human movements and feed it into a specially developed software programme, which visualized it into graphic patterns. From these patterns, a collection of uniquely textured garments reflective of these movements was created.

De-Formance signifies a slight shift from the intuitive style of its earlier incarnation to more choreographed movements, data from which was used to create woven and knit costumes for performance. Worn sensors interpret muscle movement in the form of shapes and textile effects, which, according to Smarsch, infuses a somatic and spiritual significance into the design.

Based on loose themes, including risk and vulnerability, the original sequences of movement that appear in the De-Formance film were developed prior to shooting. Data captured from the choreographed sequences was then used to develop sequence-specific costume shapes, colours and textures, while dancers reinterpreted the choreography during filming, developing new movements in response to their costumes.

“Making clothes was such time-consuming handiwork, but it was also work that brought people into a meditative state of mind,” Smarsch told Dutch Design Daily. “That’s all gone with industrialisation. I want to show through my work that – even in this age of producing things as quickly as possible – we can still return to that spiritual experience, that we can still reconnect with the body again.”

As part of her Dutch Design Week exhibition, Smarsch staged a number of live dance performances at the Piet Hein Eek Gallery in Eindhoven that explored the interface between design and movement. Inspired by the Design Academy Eindhoven graduate's research into the many early and folk societies that engaged in ritual performances to engage with the spirit world, Smarsch sees the use of the human body’s intuition as a design tool as a way to stimulate greater degrees of self-awareness and the creation of more spiritually significant outputs.

Watch Smarsch's De-Formance short film below.