Maggie Orth
Art, Technology, Design

The Short Life of Color-Change Textiles

All of my color-change textiles are in the process of transformation. From the very first time a viewer pushes the button to watch them perform, they are dying: moving toward stillness and the end of their electronic life.
           Color–change textiles begin their lives with two clear visual states. OFF, the state in which the color of the printed thermochromic (heat sensitive) ink is dark and muted. And ON, the state in which the color of the thermochromic ink is bright and saturated. When the viewer pushes the button, the electronics send current to conductive threads woven into the textile. The threadss heat up, and the thermochromic ink changes color. Software controls which pixels are turned on and off, creating different compositions on the surface of the textile, and as the fabric cools, the ink returns to its original dark state.
           But thermochromic ink is a short-lived, fragile-thing compared to stone and steel. And over time, the ink on my pieces fails to return fully to its original dark color. Eventually, the brightly colored areas will be permanent.                    
           As an artist, I struggled with the impermanence of color-change textiles for years. But I now see their failure as emblematic of the failure of all technology: the ionization of a transistor; the decay of LEDs and pixels; the obsolescence of operating systems.
            Because the constant creative-destruction of technology is a challenge not just for artists, but for all of us; as everyday we become more deeply dependent and emotionally enmeshed in a shifting tsunami of technology.
            In this way, I have come to see the impermanence of my materials is not just some red mark--some scarlet letter, but as an ironic reference to the constant unmaking of ourselves through technology, to our inability to hold onto the now, to grasp the familiar, to maintain the status quo.
           I once felt technology art faced greater challenges than other more permanent art forms, but I now understand that in the end—all art fails. This world and the works of human beings are ultimately transient. My color-change textiles are just an accelerated metaphor--an amplification--the human struggle for permanence and the ephemeral quality of life.