Jessica Rajko (choreography/performance/costume design & production)
Ashley Gamba (costume design & production)

Topography explores the contours of the female body as inspiration for choreography and interactive costume design. The primary components of this project are 1. a 9-minute solo dance work, and 2. an interactive costume that comprised of soft pressure sensors, trinket pro microcontrollers and neopixel leds.

About the Costume: Handmade soft pressure sensors are strategically placed on convex, boney parts of the body - scapulae, iliac crests, sacrum and ribs. The surrounding leds radiate from these boney landmarks creating a dynamic, topographic map of the human body. From a practical standpoint, Topography is a wearable technology design experiment. The goal with this project was to create an interactive costume that is both heavily embedded with electronic components and allows for a wide range of full-bodied movement.

About the Choreography: The costume is performed in a self-choreographed dance solo inspired by topographic map designs of both anatomical and geographic information. As a dancer I often think about the internal workings of my body: muscle, tendon and bone. Rarely do I think about my external, skin surfaces. The design process I undertook to build my interactive costume required that I think critically about the surfaces of my body. I spent a lot of time searching for ideal boney, rigid and convex surfaces for the soft pressure sensors and protected, concave, soft surfaces to hide fragile electronic components. Inspired by my intense exploration of my own human form, I used this self-exploration as an inspiration for the movement. Weaving together images of geographic and anatomical landscapes, the movement traces topographic patterns on the body and in space.

Design challenges

From a practical standpoint, Topography is a wearable technology design experiment. My goal is to create an interactive costume that is both heavily embedded with electronic components and allows for a wide range of full-bodied movement. Some of the major challenges I encountered in the design process include modularity, durability, flexibility, comfort and freedom of movement.

Modularity: All of the technological components are anchored to neoprene, a fabric most known for its use in wetsuits. All of the neoprene components are removable. This allows for the main costume piece to be machine-washed and makes any future potential repairs much easier.

Inner layer of the costume with electronic components.

Inner layer of the costume with electronic components.

Durability, Flexibility and Comfort: All of the sensors are handmade out of neoprene and conductive fabrics. Neoprene is an excellent material for interactive costume design because it is flexible, but holds shape. It also provides a soft cushion both for the body and the fragile electronics. This means that rigid electronics can be rolled over without damaging the components or injuring the body. Lastly, neoprene is waterproof meaning the electronics do not come into contact with sweat during the performance.

Freedom of Movement: Costumes embedded with technology are often bulky and fragile, limiting the movement vocabulary available to dancers and choreographers. All of the components embedded in this costume have been carefully placed to avoid major joints. Rigid materials such as microcontrollers and batteries have also been strategically placed on concave parts of the body as to avoid strong impact that may be encountered during floor work.