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<eyebeam><blast> an(other) thread....weaving webs & nets

Hello to all,
I thought I would share with the forum a project I am working on in
which the Internet has played an important role in my research.

I am working on an installation for the List Center for the Arts at MIT
(for Spring of 1999).  This past October in the Landesmuseum fur Technik
und Arbeit in Mannheim, Germany, I saw a Jacquard Loom which just about
floored me. It was invented in 1801 by Joseph-Marie Jacquard and used
binary punch cards to program the loom to weave various patterns.
(sometimes up to 24,000 cards per tapestry pattern). The way it worked,
in most simple terms is if there was a hole in a card, then a hook could
go through it and pick up a thread...no hole, no thread   zeros or ones.
This technology was coming from the automaton (Vaucanson, Jacquet-Droz)
and mechanical musical instrument lineage of the previous century. In
thinking about the gap in time between Jacquard's invention and
Hollerith's census tabulating machine nearly a hundred years later....I
began thinking about alternate histories of digital culture.

The Jacquard Loom particularly interests me because of its lineage to
the creative, decorative and applied arts of weaving and textile
production. I am also intrigued that many of the programmers, or card
punchers and weavers were women 16, 17 years old: translating a
designer's sketch into code, then into tapestry - some with detail of as
much as 1000 threads per inch - giving nearly photogrpahic quality
output. Also of interest is how this technology was stalled somewhat by
the political and social context of the time:  France during the Reign
of Terror and Napoleonic Wars. There were  riots in France in which
these looms were smashed by the workers years before the now-famous
Luddite Revolt in England of 1811.

What is most compelling for me, is that this presents an alternate
trajectory for the development of digital culture from the official
history, that is the history of the computer by way of calculating and
computational devices, the gathering of statistics, census, 
mathematics, and the military/industrial applications.

In my project I am weaving this alternate trajectory of digital culture
together with the development of the "Whirlwind" computer at MIT by Jay
Forrester in the 1940's which used *woven* copper-wire magnetic memory
cores. To position this work at MIT and weave together the  "official",
altern and fictional histories is an important aspect. The installation
will take the form of a room-sized weaving device of copper, copper wire
and engine parts (wound motor cores) (thinking also here of early
telephone technology, communications, etc) which converge to form a
"loom" incorporating living spiders and ants within the workings of  the
"loom" (I recently discovered the work made on mechanical looms rather
than handlooms was called "spiderwork" - thought to be inferior to that
made by hand.) Preferably, I will use Weaver ants, perhaps Oecophylla
smaragdina, and a spider species that makes really nice webs - in
separate habitats. We will be able to borrow, from the Museum of Textile
History a set of Jacquard Punch cards (very generous loan!) which will
hang ceiling-to-floor (25 ft), and through MIT's Museum & Archive we can
borrow some actual woven memory cores (which is what the spiders and
ants are metaphorically weaving). I will also be creating a parallel
installation at MIT which will be a "period room" consisting of a Louis
XVI style bourgeois interior complete with heavy draperies, and
furniture upholstered with Jacquard fabric I will custom weave on a
contemporary computerized Jacquard Loom (at the College of Textile
Engineering in Philadelphia). I am now thinking of what types of images
and texts I want woven into the fabric. Jacquard fabric can have a great
deal of detail. Thinking about how the loom (in altern-history) could
have been envisioned by the workers as an informational device, through
which subversive, political  *messages* could be woven which would then
find their way into the homes of the upper classes.

So as you can imagine, I am having a tremendously exciting and fun time
doing this research on the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror,
weaving history and computer history, textiles and texts, webs, nets and
networks, lace-making, domestic interiors, women computer programmers
and engineers, etc.  I am very excited about how this is developing. In
my research I have been reading  about the social context of Europe
(mainly France and Germany) between 1790-1820, the time-frame in which
the Jacquard loom was invented.....French Revolution, Reign of Terror,
Napoleonic Wars, use of the revolutionary calendar, adoption of the
metric system by France, the chemist Lavoisier executed, the literary
and philosophical writings of Goethe, Kant,  de Sade, Blake, Bentham's
panopticon, Hegel, Shelling, etc., Volta's battery, the Luddite riots,
the pseudo-science of phrenology, steam power, Lamark's theories on
evolution, and the visual culture of lavish interiors of bourgeois
salons and parlors covered with enormous draperies of brocade,
overstuffed upholstered furniture, every surface in the bourgeois home
covered in fabrics...patterns upon patterns, folded, draped,
pleated....image upon image....

Here is an interesting bit of historical trivia I uncovered in my
research: The 1846 Scientific American, citing C.G. Gilroy, "The Art of
Weaving," mentions an improved Jacquard loom capable of "working an
unlimited variety of figures and colors, as would appear from the fact
that the night dress of Pope Boniface, which was woven in one of these
machines, contained 276 different colors, so arranged and blended to
display the likenesses of 276 heretics, each suffering under some
species of torture different from any of the others."

Eve Andree Laramee
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