High Fashion Eyes Hi-Tech: Dresses That Know You’re Looking

Eye-tracking technology sparks wave-like movement in these glowing gowns

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A Montreal-based fashion designer has created a pair of dresses that react to the viewer’s gaze by lighting up and moving on their own. Working with glow-in-the dark thread, structured plastic, and super-organza commonly used in costumes for the Paris Opera House and Europe’s top fashion brands, Ying Gao constructed the spotlight-loving dresses. “The gaze-activated dresses are embedded with eye-tracking technology that responds to an observer’s gaze by activating tiny motors to move parts of the dresses in mesmerising patterns,” Dezeen magazine explains. But that’s just the start: Once activated by the viewer, the dresses move in a pre-programmed fashion.

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While one of the dresses is reminiscent of swimming jellyfish and the other has bands that evoke strands of DNA, Gao says her direct inspiration came from Paul Virilio’s 1979 essay, “Esthétique de la disparition” (The aesthetic of disappearance). As she explained to TIME in an email, “Virilio’s essay is about speed, light and disappearance, so while creating these dresses, I must have unconsciously related to it as the movement of jellyfish.” Gao remarks on her site that “a photograph is said to be ‘spoiled’ by blinking eyes – here however, the concept of presence and of disappearance are questioned, as the experience of chiaroscuro (clarity/obscurity) is achieved through an unfixed gaze.”

“Whether it is a direct visual contact or through a camera, the artistic concept of gaze has always appealed to me. Therefore, when my robotics designer Simon Laroche and I started working on the project (no) where (now) here, we thought a lot about how to bring both the conceptual and technological level together,” Gao explains. Despite all the robotic technology, each dress weighs no more than half a pound since super-organza is the world’s lightest frabic.

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According to the artist, the project will be on exhibition this fall at Montreal’s Centre de design UQAM and Shanghai’s Power Station of Art (PSA), and at Toronto’s Textile Museum of Canada in the Spring of 2014.

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