FASHIONABLY DANGEROUS: Alexandra Murray-Leslie
Dr. Alexandra Murray-Leslie is an academic artist, guest researcher Animal Logic Academy, Faculty of Transdisciplinary Innovation, The University of Technology Sydney, and co-founder of the art band Chicks on Speed. Her practice-based research focuses on the design and development of somatic wearable musical instruments with a focus on computer enhanced foot devices for theatrical audiovisual expression.
The following is a transcript of the conversation between Alexandra Murray-Leslie and Zane Cerpina in June 2017, Dublin.
Zane Cerpina (ZC): Chicks on Speed started as an art intervention into commercial music sector. How have things changed in the past 20 years? What art interventions do we need in 2018?
Alexandra Leslie Murray (ALM): Melissa Logan and I founded Chicks on Speed behind the Munich Art Academy as a sort of subversive act, if you like, and also because we were bored. And it was from there that we realized that through art we could only reach a certain amount of people. I think we just had this strategy that we could impact a lot more people if we made some sort of product that would be in between art, music, fashion and in a way blow up these boundaries. But I think really it was about this act of just being bored. It is always for necessity that you want to make change and change your environment around you, and I think that is actually the job of the artist. And today, if you are asking about what is missing, I think more of us need to maybe stop making things, so we need to de-make and make in another ways, and that is within the circular economy.
We have tortured
our feet for long enough
ZC: Your hacking fashion projects can be read as comments on the fast fashion industry?
ALM: Yes. I am an activist against fast fashion. Fashion, I think in a way really doesn't exist anymore. It used to be a mechanism for change and for recognizing something new, but I think fashion has gotten lost and I am sort of disillusioned from fashion as you can see.
But I also think it is something with musical instruments. They have all been made for hands, and so the hands have almost been overused because we put so much emphasis on our hands. I almost think that maybe the problems we have today are also caused by our hands. So the notion of manipulation is pretty negative to the hand. So if we think about 'pedi-pulation', could that be something positive if we think through our feet, if we feel through our feet, if we give more sensitivity to our feet to be in contact with the Earth, it is very related to Somaesthetics philosophy - that through this new sensing maybe we will experience around us in a different way, and maybe the way we affect the world will also be different, because we have open ourselves up to that. I just feel like we need to use other parts of our body, so my emphasis, my focus is the feet because we have tortured our feet for long enough and and we have tortured the Earth for long enough.
We need to be absolutely subversive
if we are going to make any change
ZC: Do you want to be dangerous to the fashion industry?
ALM: Absolutely dangerous! I think we need to be radical now, I think we need to be absolutely subversive if we are going to make any change. And I think even art, there is no real reason for art anymore in the way dead art has been re-made. Only the live is of interest, they can have a say, they can make change.
We are outside the Ecuadorian Embassy, and we are going to go
and free Julian Assange now
ZC: What is the most dangerous thing you have done as an artist?
I've gotten to travel a few times with some of the workshops. I did a workshop with Rebecca Fiebrink and Atau Tanaka where I teach guerrilla strategies. We go off our laptops and we go into the real world. I led the students, and I led them and led them and they didn't know where we were going. And then we got to the corner of this building in a very expensive part of London, and I asked them, "Do you know where we are?" and they said no, and I said, "We are outside the Ecuadorian Embassy, and we are going to go and free Julian Assange now." That was not dangerous, but the dangerous part I found was that some of the American students got really angry with me and I felt they were going to take me to court. And the activity was about watching the watchers watching, so we were carrying out active surveillance. And in the way that Steve Mann has carried out 'Veillance': we were watched from above so we were watching from below. But the American students didn't really understand, and it was at that moment that I asked them: "What media do you read? What do you listen to?" and they told me Fox News, and I said, "Well that is the problem because you need to read broadly, you need to understand what is really going on." So I think maybe it is very dangerous when people don't look around and see a broader horizon around them, and that is dangerous for me and I felt in danger. I was endangered by my students. Because they thought that I was morally incorrect.
ZC: What about your residency at Autodesk, what experiences did you get out of it?
ALM: I think working with people that have an expertise in so many different areas, so this notion of being able to collaborate with an astronaut, collaborate with somebody who does 3D printed glass. In a way of bringing in all these areas and seeing where can a collaboration grow. So I really went in there with a pretty open mind, and sure I wanted to create another prototype of my shoes through 3D printing, but aside from that I also wanted to see what would happen and to be open to those inputs from those different people. And I ended up coming out with a couple videos, I did choreography with robots, I learned how to program the choreography with a robot.
Make mistakes because
it is the mistakes that lead
you to the unexpected outcomes
I think the refreshing thing about Autodesk was that the reason why they bring artists in is to make trouble, to push the boundaries of where the machines can go, to reprogram the machines, to hack the machines, to get into the G-Code and fuck things up; they want that. And I think that is really unique and I think that is how more companies should be because it is the artists that are going to advance the software, they are going to advance these machines because they are going to want to do things that the machines can't do yet.
So it is these experiences of artists coming up with ideas, experimenting with these machines, experimenting with fabrication methods in order to make steps towards the unknown, and that is something I am really interested in. So not just creating an STL file, giving it away, or even putting it in yourself and sending it to the printer. But going, "Okay, I have sent my file, now how can I actually physically mess with this machine to change my print?" And I find that physicality really exciting because I mm a performer and I see the 3D printer as a stage for action. So if I just put my STL file in and I push 'Start' and I have to watch it for 16 hours, I feel left out of the performance, so I want to stop it, I want to embed stuff and I want to change the nature of the output of the print because in a way these 3D printers, they are too perfect, there are no mistakes. A lot of our work has to do with craft and manual labor, and I think there needs to be more of an integration of traditional craft methods of making with the digital making, so opening the printer up, scraping a bit around. And make mistakes because it is the mistakes that lead you to the unexpected outcomes.