Mom Jeans: merging memories
Inspired by Jean-Henri Fabre’s Book of Insects, I wanted to reimagine two of the chapters as combined memories: his recollections of these encounters with two insects, my own memories of the same encounters, and a pair of jeans my mother used to wear in the 90's, a time during which my love for entomology started. By mixing code, 3D and hand embroideries, I brought together those lived experiences onto one garment.
produced by: Zoé Caudron
The artwork I selected is Jean-Henri Fabre’s “Souvenirs Entomologiques”, or entomological memories in English (but translated as “Book of Insects”). I picked that book for many reasons; I, too, have vivid memories of my first encounters with various insects, and have a strong love and fascination for them. I also hold quite dearly how Fabre recollects his experiences, not in a purely scientific manner, but as a fantasized, novelised story. He was often “called out” for being too liberal with his conclusions and how he would anthropomorphise their behaviours, but it is to me the very essence of what a memory is. No memories are purely factual, as they are heavily influenced by emotions and feelings, and keep being altered every time we revisit them.
I decided to focus on two chapters, each based on a specific species, picked from the ones that fascinated me as well as a child. These insects are the Praying Mantis and the Rose Chafer beetle. I also made sure to isolate species that could have high contrasting colours on a dark blue background.
What I wanted to project is the collective experience of personal memories - combining Fabre’s and mine, but also providing users with the chance to feel that sense of wonder I felt (and Fabre did too) when I first encountered these insects, small but precious, with their own personalities and agendas.
To further accentuate that memory merging, I used a garment I’ve always cherished, a pair of jeans my mother used to wear back in the 90’s, and that I salvaged from the trash after her divorce. It was stained and ripped, not really wearable anymore, until I started embroidering it with some of my favourite creatures, combining my experience to hers. Embroidery has long been used to express stories in a durable way, even on garments, which also seemed relevant here.
Bringing the project to life
In hindsight, I was very optimistic for this project - probably too much. I initially had planned to create a small AR app that could work on mobile or be browser-based, so 3D visuals seemed like the obvious way to go. I soon came to realise that openFrameworks is not the most 3D friendly toolkit out there; with little documentation and a focus on the dreaded .dae files instead of the usual .fbx, my plan rapidly backfired. As it turns out, complex rigs and complex animations won't be supported, files with multiple meshes might not fully load, and the scale can vary wildly from one .dae to the other. With that in mind, my first reflex was to find correct addons to support my project, but then again I had to face a major issue: most of these addons, while amazing, are meant for iOs/mac users.
After battling with compatibility options, iOs emulators and simulators, and a variety of addons, I decided to scratch most of my work and find another plan. I put my focus on only two insects, and a simpler scan-to-trigger interaction using ofxOsc. And from that point on, things went a lot smoother. I finally managed to understand what was breaking the files, so I could export mostly intact models and animations; the 3D models had to be made from scratch, from modelling to animation, which took a fair amount of time, and I needed to finish the embroideries before finalising the code as I needed the colours to be set.
Now that the code was running, the models were loading and the embroideries were done, I set up to organise my installation. My plan, once again, was to have a wearable piece that was also interactive, that could be scanned from a mobile wherever in the space and trigger a projection onto a flat surface, in this case old entomology books. While this would have nicely wrapped the project, taking it back to Fabre's writings, it also posed a new problem: the retroprojector's frequency did not match the camera's recording the experience, creating instead a brain-wrecking mix of rainbow-coloured lines flashing all over. It did work better on a nice garden wall, where I finally recorded this piece.
Looking back, I do wish I had gone for a more code-heavy, technical piece, to put to good use all we've learned this year. But being able to mix medium I am familiar with to a more abstract and technical code felt like the right way to blend memories, all from a different era, and I love the idea of having an interactive pair of jeans now. I do however plan to keep working on this project so that I can have a fully mobile app at some point.
Thank you for this year!