Normals is a collective whose work crosses a number of boundaries. Perhaps their work is a proposal that the boundaries we once found useful in defining creative practice don’t work as well in our connected/networked/hybrid cultures. What do the spaces between design, digital studio practice, networked art, and Internet Art look like? What do the spaces between fiction, abstraction, and social media performance look like? What do the spaces between the real, the virtual, and the augmented look like? It isn’t easy to define through traditional categories what artists create in our contemporary visual culture more broadly and definitely challenging with the work of Normals in particular.
I met Normals in 2012 at the 2nd International Computer Art Congress in Paris, where their physical bodies live and work. Since that time they have continued to produce multifaceted speculative works of multiple disciplinary categories. In the past several months, they have been promoting a new work - APPAREL. Our interview focuses on that work but is ongoing.
# Hi Normals - for our readers not familiar with your work, tell us about APPAREL. The work has a number of parts - how do they fit together?
APPAREL is a piece of clothing designed to co-exist in the digital and physical spaces. It comes as a polygonal black cape, and an iOS application allowing the wearer to see the piece’s digital counterpart, in augmented reality. The cape itself is as minimalistic as its digital overlay is complex and refined. The digital model is generated through a text analysis of the wearer's Twitter feed, evolving in real time, and creates a unique piece of clothing, as an info-graphic, an incarnation of the wearer's online personality.
Being a speculative studio working on anticipation, we like to imagine what a world where our “products” are widespread would look like, and for that specific reason we tend to pair our projects with loads of fiction, describing hypothetical users, and their relationship to theses objects in a future where they have become… well… normal. So, for APPAREL, not only did we make a functional product (with the coding help of Julien “V3ga” Gachadoat), but we also imagined a future fashion show, a fashion contest, in which everybody wears an Apparel and competes over their digital personalities.
This has been the subject to a short story, a video depicting one of the contestants (3PLUS3MAKE5), a soundtrack generated from the contestants’ profiles, and a faux-documentary depicting fashion’s transfer over to the digital realm.
The work is speculative, but it is also about things that are currently happening and developing in Arts/Tech environments. What do you think are some of the more interesting directions in creative culture today?
Everything speculative is about something currently happening! Honestly, there are many interesting aspects to the evolution of arts, tech, and fashion, but we decided to focus on one question that has driven the entire project: “what would our clothes look like if they became digital?” Considering AR as a potential technology to display a data-based esthetic layer over physical things, it seemed obvious that all things esthetic would transit to this reactive and polymorphous layer of contextual information. On the other hand, the physical piece of clothing had to be reduced to a simple protective piece of fabric, a pedestal for its glorious digital overlay.
But to answer your question, we feel anything can be interesting as long as it doesn’t fall into the trap of “fascination.” The role of artists, designers, or “futurists” is to look at what tomorrow might bring without being so fascinated by their subject that they transform critical thinking into wishful thinking without even knowing it. “What will [insert something] look like in the future?” is always a valid question, as long as the answer isn’t “flying cars” or “eternal life.” No one should look at innovation as something purely good or purely bad: whatever’s interesting lies in the middle.
APPAREL had/has a number of contestants - Users creating and sharing their fashion/design - what are some of your favorites?
We love them all! When imagining a product or an object, it’s always extremely fun to imagine the people interacting with it, whether it is as “hackers” of the system, or people full of admiration for the “progress” it stands for, it is one of the main focuses of our practice: imaginary users for speculative objects.
All the characters described in the story are representative of an “attitude” towards digital fashion: the main character, Abdlcroco, is a competitor who only runs after achievements, while Mangel is seeking for the perfect performance, and 3PLUS3MAKE5 cultivates eye-candies to satisfy her audience’s craving for fun and cute things. Duall is probably the most intriguing character though, being someone who doesn’t care about this fashion contest, but comes to watch it every day, and is, despite his efforts to make people believe he doesn’t care, part of this system too.
A question for one of the contestants - is AbdlCroco available?
AbdlCroco - you used to be one of the top ranked contestants - tell our readers about one of your most highly rated designs - what was it like? What did the crowd think?
What I do is very personal. Whatever I feel like on the moment, I just turn it into a situational dance that spits epileptic graphics right into the viewer’s ‘i’. But if I have to chose one… I’d say back when I was Number Six or something. There was this one time… See, I made these bunky prisms that would go boom-boom-boom in your face as the bass in the soundtrack — the most epic collection of the deepest, darkest, fattest bass samples you could find on the Stream — also went boom-boom-boom. Even the floor looked like it was shaking, with all the lines blinking up and down looted from SK000N’s template — you know the one I’m talking about, right? So I had all this set up, and as I stepped on stage, there was some kind of power shutdown or something, and all the lights went out, and it was so in sync with my show that every frenz thought it was all planned. But truly it wasn’t. Just got lucky. And frenz digged my stuff so hard they remained silent throughout the whole thing, and I even got a standing ovation — well, the “standing” part doesn’t count though, everyone was standing already. But still got an ovation. That one was the best. Got straight to number 4 after that. But that was another time…
AbdlCroco - what do you think of Mangel’s fashion? His work seems to be on top lately - what does the crowd like about Mangel?
Allow me to speak frankly: Mangel’s a joke! Every single day Trudent welcomes a fashion show, with rules, RULES — you are judged on your LOOKS. The performance has now become a part of the show, and I’m okay with that: you should be able to display your outfit in the best manner possible. But what I HATE is frenz who use the performance to go hypno on the audience, to a point where they’re not even looking at the ONLY thing they should be looking at. Mangel’s just a comedian, he acts, makes people laugh, but no one sees that he just copies everyone else, and never comes up with ANYTHING NEW. Yet people like him, so they vote for him, and he remains there, everyday, trolling his way to the top.
Normals - Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us, we look forward to seeing what happens next!