Red Thread connects sewing machines in Bangalore and Dublin


Artist Kerry Guinan pokes her head under a flat wooden table, atop which sits a sewing machine.

The table stands above another table, raised so that Guinan and Frank Prendergast, another artist, can easily play with the twists of threads and computer parts attached to the sewing machine.

Five other sewing machines line up behind the pair inside the Cabra studio of Space Forms, a company Prendergast runs to help artists organize art exhibitions.

He helped Guinan with technology for his exhibition, Red Thread, which will run for six days at The Complex in Smithfield, starting May 4.

The six sewing machines are digitally linked to six sewing machines in a garment factory in Bangalore, India which workers use to make garments.

Every jerk of the pedal and buzz of the needle will be exactly imitated in Dublin, says Guinan. It will be between 8 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. here, while it is between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. there.

“People are going to do their usual work, that’s what gets recorded and played back,” she says.

Guinan says she hopes that when people visit the exhibit and see the sewing machines humming, they’ll feel a connection between the clothes on their backs and the hands that made them.

A butterfly effect

Standing among the rows of sewing machines, Prendergast pinches a small, flat, gray computer module, showing its rows of spindles.

Above his head, among the rafters, pigeon feet scrape the mustard yellow insulation. The walls are filled with carpenter’s tools and wooden planks.

“It’s called an ESP 32, which means it has on-board connectivity,” he says, holding the coin. It’s a useful tool for those who want to build a digital network, he says.

Prendergast says the network begins when a garment worker at the Pretinterpret Clothing factory in Bangalore pushes the pedal on his sewing machine.

It triggers a laser sensor, he says, which sends a pulse to a motor, which spins and nudges the ESP 32 to send a signal through the internet.

Guinan bends down to show the small plastic pieces of the network puzzle attached to the pedal, and the aerial shot down to the bottom of the table on which the sewing machine sits.

There, a pile of colorful cubes, wires and aluminum slabs make up the computer that can connect to the internet and hear, or feel, what Bangalore’s sewing machines are saying.

Sai Mulpuru, a technician and design professor in India, installed the corresponding computer network on the six Bangalore sewing machines and will supervise the project for the duration of the exhibition, Guinan explains.

Under the sewing machine. By Frank Prendergast.

Deepa Chikarmane, factory manager of Pretinterpret Clothing in Bangalore, India, says it looks like Bangalore’s machines will send a message across the world.

“Anytime there is movement, you know, it kind of reflects in Ireland,” she said over the phone on Monday.

It’s like the butterfly effect, she says. “There’s a lady so many miles away, you know, doing a little action with her foot that triggers something so far away.”

Prendergast compares it to a keyboard. “It’s just translating information from an analog signal into a digital signal, transmitting it around the world, reading it as a digital signal, translating it into an analog signal, and having an effect. “

Prendergast studied software engineering when he left school. “When I was in art college, I saw, ‘Ah, I can combine those two things.'”

Guinan took him with Mulpuru on board to help him. “I had the basic knowledge that it was possible to achieve, but I never used it myself, so I had to put together a team.”

Degrees of separation

Through Indian artists in Ireland, Guinan found Bakula Nayak, an artist from Bangalore, she says. Nayak and Chikarmane, the factory manager, had met through their children.

“She had all the social connections I needed,” Guinan says. “I think it ended up being about like, maybe five or six degrees of separation.”

Guinan liked that Chikarmane invested in the artistic ideas behind the project, she says. “She was just like, really passionate about textiles, a way to engage people.”

Guinan says she traveled to Bangalore in February to meet the participants from the sewing department of Pretinterpret Clothing, properly explain the project and hear their thoughts.

Chikarmane had explained to him in advance that some of the workers would not have good reading skills and spoke many different languages ​​among themselves, Guinan said. “None of them knew where Ireland was in the world.”

With an interpreter, Guinan and Mulpuru, the technician, demonstrated a simplified version of the technology they would use for the sewing machines, along with visual aids and drawings.

She was also able to sit with the participants in the one-on-one sewing. “It was really, really nice, just to like, to learn a little bit more about their work and about them as individuals.”

Chikarmane says Guinan’s visit made her and the participants excited about the project.

“There’s a sense of well-being around it all,” she says. “The whole process was so collaborative.”

What it all means

The Pretinterpret Clothing factory makes women’s clothing, using soft fabrics like chiffon, georgette, charmeuse and cotton voile, to create creations by North American designers, Chikarmane explains. “A lot of added value, a lot of embroidery, a lot of creativity.”

The garment industry is the second largest employer in India, she said. “And very often the faces, the personalities are all forgotten.”

Participating in Guinan’s exhibition felt like a way of acknowledging this work, she says. “Something about that was wonderful, wasn’t it, to know what really goes on behind the way clothes, which we take for granted, are made.”

If Dubliners see the machines sewing invisible fabric by invisible hands and realize there’s a person behind every little movement, it could make them less likely to throw away a garment, she says.

“When you’re emotionally attached to it, you think 10 times before throwing it away,” she says. “It may have been just a white t-shirt, but in the end, efforts were made to make it.”

Guinan, gazing at the motionless sewing machines in the workshop, says she wanted to reveal the place of individuals who support the garment industry, and under larger systems like capitalism and globalism.

“Intimate, human, delicate movements that launch this huge, colossal system on a global scale,” she says.

The exhibit is about Guinan’s connection to the workers she met in Bangalore, and the affinity people should feel with those making essential goods thousands of miles away, she says.

“It comes from my own experience of feeling alienated in the modern global north, you know, and how the goods, just like, magically appear before our eyes, completely divorced from the work that made them,” she said pulling the collar. of his own jacket.


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