Staring at another person’s clothing is generally considered rude — in fact, the mere concept of gaze has its own history and critical literature. But, in this particular case, it’s recommended: these two dresses, by Montreal designer Ying Gao, aren’t really complete unless someone is staring at them.
Gao works with extreme materials — including things like light-sensitive textiles and photoluminescent thread — that test the bounds of social acceptability. Citing inspiration from Jacques Tati’s Playtime and critic Paul Virilio, Gao’s garments are both slyly critical and lovely, a mix of sharp cultural commentary and truly inspired design.
Her latest pieces, which goes on view at Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art this fall and were featured in a Dezeen video today, deal with how fashion is affected by the public eye — literally. The two cocktail-length dresses are made from a shell of semi-transparent and lightweight “superorganza”, which supports a detailed panel of photoluminescent strings on the front-facing body. Under the strings, a small camera identifies and tracks the movement of faces nearby. And when a set of eyes happen to land on the dress, a series of tiny embedded motors kick into gear, making the photoluminescent strings writhe and curl.
Of course, due to the cost and sheer amount od hardware at work here, we probably won’t see such technology in public any time soon — but it’s an interesting way to frame the contradiction between fashion that’s clearly made to be looked at and the taboo of staring at other peoples’ clothing. For more on Gao’s fascinating work, check out her website, where you’ll find light-sensitive dresses and touch-sensitive caftans.