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  • Tactus No.1, Kaunas Biennial, September 2015. Photo Havva Bulley.

Speaker’s Corner: James Bulley and Myrto Karanika

on the importance of their practice, innovation and collaboration

Innovative ideas and collaboration are an integral part of the Kaunas biennial programme. The biennial started in 1997 as a textiles biennial and since this particular discipline of craft has played an important role. In recent years, the biennial programme and curated exhibitions started to include contemporary art, however craft, and in particular textiles, has held it’s place.

The educational programme at the biennial has always been an important strand of the project. It’s main aim is to enhance a sense of community through creative activities. As part of 2015 Kaunas biennial educational programme the aim was to address audience with disabilities and engage them in the creation of a discursive culture.

Prior to the panel discussion on developing tactile experiences for blind and partially sighted people using smart textiles and embedded electronics at Make:Shift 2016, Audience Development Manager at Kaunas biennial, Neringa Stoskute has asked artists James Bulley and Myrto Karanika some questions on the importance of their practice, innovation and collaboration.

- Why textiles?
MK: Because they’re there surrounding us since our first memories as a child. They’re such an important part of our emotional and social being; textiles comfort and shelter us, they’re essentially bound to technological innovation yet keeping us close to our tradition and cultural roots. It’s a medium we’re so familiar and comfortable with that we rarely take a moment to consider the values it carries. Textile based art takes this beautiful medium out of its ordinary use and asks us to rethink its qualities in the most unexpected ways.

JB: There is something incredibly beguiling about the different intimacies of touching different fabrics – their weaves and make up can convey an incredible amount of information.

Strings (collaboration with sound artist Jeremy Keenan), touch-sensitive sound-generating installation, 2009. Photo Myrto Karanika.

- What are the distinctive characteristics of smart textiles that can help resolve solutions in other sectors?

JB: Flexibility, familiarity – the physical closeness that textiles have to our everyday existence​.

MK: Smart textiles provide the ground for integrating technological advances with unique textile properties such as elasticity, density, translucency, permeability and lightness to create versatile solutions for a wide range of applications. Their novel properties are groundbreaking yet at the same time part of a historical continuity of technological innovation that is specific to the textile medium. To me, the strength of smart textiles lies exactly in this dual quality of innovation and tradition that allows them to seamlessly integrate in a variety of contexts of our everyday life, from fashion and architecture to healthcare and education. 

- How important is collaboration to your work and what kind of professionals do you collaborate with?

JB: This depends on the type of piece I am working on as it can vary hugely! In the context of the piece Tactus I worked with a wonderfully talented printmaker called Faye McNulty to develop the particular bespoke textile-print technique that underpins the tactile score. I also worked with Arron Smith from Artists and Engineers, who helped me develop the capacitive touch sensors that enables the triggering technology within the piece.​ 

MK: Collaboration is also an integral part of my artistic practice - it’s key to creative thinking and making outside the boundaries of my expertise, and also the foundation for experimentally applying my pieces in non-art sectors like education and healthcare. I regularly work with sound artist Jeremy Keenan and robotics engineer Aleksandar Zivanovic for the making of my pieces. My practice also involves collaboration with psychologists and teachers in primary education. 

Strings (collaboration with sound artist Jeremy Keenan), artists testing the sound design, 2009. Photo Myrto Karanika.
- What are you looking forward to the most at Make:Shift?

MK: Exposing myself to new insights about the importance of craft in everyday experience and social innovation.

JB: I'm excited to be up in MOSI again as I haven't been in Manchester for a few years, and love the architecture of the museum. I'm also, like Myrto, really interested to hear discussions around the future of making, and the innovations that are happening in that area.

The panel presentations and discussion will take place on Thursday, 10th November.

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