DH Reads

DH Read: “Weaving, Coding & Storytelling”

In this interview of Francesca Rodriguez Sawaya by Jon Heggestad, Rodriguez Sawaya describes her work in coding and weaving and the relationships she sees between the two, specifically “how these technologies incorporate unique modes of storytelling, and the opportunities for empowerment that they might offer women.” As Rodriguez Sawaya explains, weaving is a physical representation of data; traditional handcrafting is a “physical way of archiving stories in so many different cultures.” After describing some of the projects that sparked her interest in weaving and coding, Rodriguez Sawaya provides a fascinating explanation of how she understands the connections between these practices:

Textiles are definitely one of the oldest, most advanced technologies, and I love thinking about that. I always say that the technology we use today is an “updated version” of the “technology from the past,” but we don’t normally think about it in that way. A loom was the technology of the moment at one point. And when we think about how computers work, the binary system and the logic computers use to function are very similar to how weaving works. Computers use 1 and 0, when we weave we go up and down. Like this one, we came up with more analogies, connecting coding functions to weaving exercises (a for-loop in coding indicates a repetition of a task; when we weave, we also need to repeat an action to create a design). We enjoyed this so much that at one point we thought, “Why didn’t we learn coding in this way?” Like me, many people have been really involved with crafting their whole lives, and there’s something natural in the way we work with our hands and we relate to materials. By understanding this relation, we can think about transitioning to coding in an easier way.

Also, as you know, the first computers were looms. We use computers to work with information, and weaving pieces have kept information for so many years. So if you think about the storytelling/information/data side of both activities, they are also connected. Writing a text is weaving a text. The word text and textile come from the same root and there’s a really clear connection between using thread to connect pieces. There’s a painting by Frida Kahlo, What the Water Gave Me, that I love and that inspired me to think a lot about this, where she connects with thread many aspects about her identity. So the idea of thread symbolizing connection has existed for a long time. Even thinking about how traditional weaving in different cultures has generated patterns, there’s a logic behind those designs, a logic that is expressed through the handcrafting process. Coding also has a logic and both are transmitted through language, and that language can be either a line of code or a weaving design.

In the rest of the interview, Rodriguez Sawaya explains how connecting weaving and coding, creating an intersection of science and art, can be a way to empower more women to be involved in tech. Especially beyond the United States (but here, too), there exists a gendered division between science and art. As she says, “I was lucky to attend a couple of Maker Fests in India earlier this year and saw how this division still exists: the boys are doing mostly tech, the girls are doing crafts and design. That is changing, however there’s still a lack of empowerment for girls to feel that they can be part of the tech sector.” Rodriguez Sawaya sees her work in weaving stories as a way to bridge that division and help women see that coding is something they can do. Furthermore, she argues that it’s important for women to be involved in tech because they are well positioned to “bring that community-driven/human side to technology.” She also argues that, given that the future “seems to be more and more automated” and that “technology is not always designed to transmit empathy,” crafting is a way to “preserve the essence of the meaning behind being human.”

I recommend reading the full post; my summary does not do it full justice. I found it interesting because it highlights the fallacy of trying to group disciplines and practices into silos of sciences, arts, and humanities. When we separate practices out this way, it reifies the social constructs that tell certain categories of people that there are kinds of work they’re not capable of doing. If we seek to understand that creativity is at the heart of all work and that all work is connected through shared histories, we might be able to work toward breaking down these divisions. I also related personally to what Rodriguez Sawaya says about “how as a society we are going back to crafting,” that “there’s something happening that is making people look back and try to reconnect ourselves with ourselves.” In an effort to kick my addiction to wasting hours of my free time on the internet (when I already spend most of my working hours online), I recently took up embroidery, and I’m already feeling calmer and more satisfied with my time. I don’t think I’ll be integrating that work into my academic work anytime soon, though.

Read the original post here.

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