An artist working with electronics and electronic media, based in Brooklyn, NY

Fragmented Memory

Fragmented Memory by Phillip Stearns at RoCo

Fragmented Memory, A Triptych of Data Portraits Rendered from Raw Digital Information. Installed at the Rochester Contemporary Art Center

Title: Fragmented Memory (XAA 222RGB 336px, XAE 222RGB 336px, XGQ 222RGB 36px)
Date of Completion: May 29, 2013
Media: Digitally designed and woven textile
Tools: Processing, Pmem, Mac OSX terminal, Ned Graphics Jacquard Suite, Dornier Loom with Staubli Jacquard head.
Dimensions: Three pieces each measuring 160cm wide x 205 cm tall
Sale Price: view here

[See Also: Binary Blankets & Glitch Textiles]


Fragmented Memory is a triptych of large woven tapestries completed in May 2013 in Tilburg, NL at the Audax Textielmuseum’s Textiellab. The project uses digital practices and processes to blur the lines between photography, data visualization, textile design, and computer science. The result are works of visual art that serve not only to render visible the invisible processes mediating everyday experience, but also to operate as distinctly tactile and lo-fi digital storage media—the process becomes a means to capture, record, and transmit data.

A snapshot of my computer’s physical memory was extracted in a core dump (using OSXPmem). Three selections of the binary data were converted to images using custom software written with the help of Jeroen Holthuis in Processing which grouped 6 bits into RGB pixel color values (2 bits per channel). The resulting 64 hues in the images were then mapped to a custom woven color palette created by mixing 8 colors of yarn using variations on a satin weave. The resulting patterns were then woven on a computerized industrial Jacquard loom. Because of the direct mappings from binary data, to image, and from image to woven pattern, it’s actually possible to decode the original binary data sourced from my computer’s physical memory. In fact, a key to the binding patterns is provided on the back of each piece.

Textiles have long been used as a medium for imagery but are also closely connected to the development of automation and computer technology. Fragmented Memory collapses these two histories, functioning as a visual and physical medium for the storage and transmission of digital information.


Physical Memory

The assemblage of data in a computer’s physical memory serves as a record of human activity and agency, however abstracted and fragmented. By analyzing and understanding the data in a computer’s physical memory, it is possible, in some respects, to reconstruct a profile of the individual operating the machine. The physical memory of a computer contains the program data, instructions and file data, that are stored temporarily for future execution and processing. This includes media such as photos, video, sound, and text. In a sense the physical memory can be viewed as the part of a computer in which programs queue their instructions for the computer to execute. Those instructions once executed however, radiate, mediated back to the user, which brings into question the locus of agency in regards to who or what is programming or being programmed.

Medium is the Message

Binary data can take on many forms: pits and lands in a thin film of metal, the alignment of magnetic domains on a metal platter, the presence or absence of charges on capacitive FET transistor gates, light and dark markings on a piece of paper, or different binding patterns in a woven textile. Each has it’s own materiality, physicality, scale, and temporal dimensions, as well as cultural significance.

Early Jacquard looms used punch cards to automate the weaving of patterns and designs. Though not exactly programmable in the same way a computer is, the punch card technology from Jacquard looms was later adapted for use as a means for programming early computers and storing binary. With punch cards now a relic of the past and modern industrial looms controlled by computers, Fragmented Memory confronts us with the possibility of program machines using textiles.

Images to Images

Perhaps it’s nothing more than a trick of language that digital copies are referred to as images. Maybe this is a remnant from a time before duplication became an invisible process of transcribing on/off states, when optics, lenses and mirrors, were necessary to reproduce the likeness of something in the world. To translate an image of computer memory to a visual form in such a way that the content of the data is preserved, an image of an image, and then to weave it into a tapestry somehow ties a clean knot. The patterns and designs locked in thread from the earliest times bear a striking resemblance to those formed by our digital machines today.


Viewpoint: Issue No33
Wired UK
Creative Applications
Moco Loco
Fast Co.Design

One response

  1. Excellent! I’m also an artist working in fiber and have been exploring the binary/computing nature of weaving. Have you seen the BBC series Connections? this episode has some great bits about computers evolving from looms (and incidentally the role of cotton fabric in literacy- printing press plus cheaper printing material from used cotton underwear!).

    September 4, 2013 at 12:40 AM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s