Weaving an Uncanny Valley

Jacquard weavings can be brain-teasers for the uninitiated. “The imagery is embedded in the structure of the cloth,” explains Sophia Borowska, an artist and researcher affiliated with the Textiles and Materiality Cluster. “So there’s no fabric without the image, and there’s no image without the fabric. When people who aren’t versed in the process itself look at it, they don’t know how it’s made. It can be very confusing.”

It was thinking about this uncanny quality possessed by jacquard that led Borowska to one of her ongoing research interests: jacquard weaving as a 3D construction medium. The project has been a collaborative research project [with artists Marlon Kroll and Cedric Laurenty supported through seed funding from the TExtiles and Materiality cluster, with the aim of developing 3D renderings in jacquard.

“We looked at 3D from different perspectives, researching the nature of representation nowadays, when 3D rendering is so popular. The idea was to examine why that is. Why do we strive to make these hyperrealist VR environments, when we have the power to create literally any kind of environment we want? Why is animation all of a sudden solely 3D?,” says Borowska.

Making weaving 3D isn’t quite like printing 3D, but there are overlaps. As with printing, a jacquard weaving is generated with a digital file. Borowska’s 3D pieces have ranged from very simple to quite complex. “In some pieces I’ll just add a pile to the cloth, so it’s just a little bit 3-D. And then there’s a way to weave multiple layers all at once, as you go, so it’s a flat surface, but the way the layers intersect when they’re cut off the loom will unfold into different panels. I also tried a method that leaves big gaps of unwoven areas, and then when the threads are pulled, those areas come together. So two flat pieces will come together and make a three-dimensional construction?.”

Borowska’s research led her to consider the primacy of the visual in contemporary culture, and consider the implications of attending to the visual rather than the other senses. “Is it a toxic symptom of a Western way of looking at things?” she says. “The woven media itself has potential to do amazing things that do make you aware of the haptic senses.”

As a Milieux affiliate, Borowska hopes to engage with people working in VR to continue this consideration of the potentialities of fibres and haptics in imagining alternate realities.