2015 Interview with Ken Furudate

Tell us about the functions of the software you developed for PP.

I developed software to convert a graphic produced by Ms. MOON into data for a woven textile.

The graphic used was a collage based on photographs, saved as an ordinary image file. The patterns in textiles are produced by combining threads, so you don’t have the same freedom to use colors as you do on a computer screen. Differences in texture arising from the types of threads used also affect the finish a great deal. The role of the software that I developed is to reduce the number of colors, bearing these facts in mind, and to turn the image into a form that can be read by the software generally used to create Nishijin fabric.

One of the distinctive features of Hosoo’s textiles is that several types of thread are woven into a single piece of cloth; for this project, we used four different types of thread and a palette of six colors. Six colors might not seem many, but each has its own significance from the perspective of the ground, the accent color, and the texture, so it would be fair to say that this palette is sufficient for Nishijin fabric. You can also specify the construction ─ how the threads will be combined with each other and what pattern is to be made ─ so you can achieve considerable complexity even with six colors.

Rather than merely converting the source graphic mechanically, we needed to adjust a lot of different parameters, including not only the number of colors, but the size of the color field and the complexity of the shapes, to suit the cloth construction and the type of threads. The first step was to decide on a tentative combination of threads, create the data, and weave a test piece. We looked at the results and altered the combination of threads, then adjusted the parameters to get the best results with that combination, created the data once more, and tried weaving it again. Through this process of trial and error, we aimed to ensure that the source graphic would not merely be a pattern, but be rendered as a textile capable of inspiring the same sensations.

In short, I think it would be fair to say that my role was to be a kind of artistic translator between the artist and the weaver.

Tell us about the themes involved in developing it.

I was interested in textiles and had researched them even before participating in this project. Nishijin fabric is woven on a computer-controlled device called a Jacquard loom. Weaving is highly compatible with digital technology and the grids used on computers, because it’s all about how to combine the horizontal and vertical threads. For Promise Park, I thought a lot about how to make the best use of this particular attribute.

What new possibilities can be explored in Nishijin weaving precisely because of the use of computers?

I’ve continued to work on development with Hosoo since the project. Jacquard looms have the potential to be able to precisely control the texture of the weave, but the limitations of existing software are such that it can only 2be controlled in a comparatively rough way at the moment. Specifically, artisans have something akin to a library of Nishijin weaving patterns know-how cultivated to date, so they’re trying to fit that know-how to each design. Naturally, artisans are constantly updating that library and developing new weaves, so while it’s a very rational system in the sense of maintaining the appropriate level of quality and sustaining stable production, it’s also...how can I put it...a human-oriented system.

I think there are two approaches you can take when you decide to use a computer. One is using it as a tool to improve quality as an extension of existing tools. This is the approach that was taken to improve precision, efficiency, and quality by using computers to put together the drawings that were previously drawn by hand, for example. I think that the way that computers are currently being used for Nishijin fabric is based on this approach.

The other direction you can take is to focus on what it is that you can only do with computers. I think that what is called generative art takes this approach. It pursues a kind of regularity and randomness, and the beauty that likely resides in the process itself. Putting it in extreme terms, it’s not human-oriented; even if there wasn’t anybody to view it, you could still guarantee that it would have a kind of beauty. Well, that’s probably a bit too romantic a way of describing it; ultimately, it’s people who look at something and decide that it’s beautiful, after all.

In my development work since then, based on ideas like this, I’ve created my own unique piece of software and am on a quest to discover what new things we can create by precisely controlling each and every part of the weave. While maintaining the greatest respect for the culture of Nishijin fabric, the skill of its artisans, and the extremely elaborate and complex textiles that they produce today, I want to try to remove the shackles hobbling it. I’m thinking about fully controlling the potential of the Jacquard loom and the fabric that could be created precisely because we’re using a Jacquard loom.

Ken Furudate

Artist, programmer, musician. Through computer programming, Furudate explores the possibilities offered by code-generated video and sound. Since 2002, he has led The SINE WAVE ORCHESTRA, a sound art project, presenting his works at various exhibitions both within Japan and overseas, including the 2nd Yokohama Triennale (2005). He received an Honorary Mention in the Prix Ars Electronica (2004). Since relocating to Kyoto in 2006, he has been involved in a great deal of creative work with other artists as a video, sound, mechatronics, and electronics technician.