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Students present cutting-edge design work at symposium

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By Margaret McKinney
Highlands University

Media arts students from New Mexico Highlands University presented their cutting-edge electronic design work at the International Symposium on Electronic Art earlier this month in Albuquerque.

More than 100 artists and 400 presenters from 30 countries participated in the symposium that brings together art, science and technology. The symposium is in its 18th year.

The Highlands University media arts students designed five high-tech wearable art garments for a fashion performance called CorpusElectric. The public performance was on Sunday as part of the symposium’s Intel Education Day. The venue is The Box Performance Space, 114 Gold Ave. S.W. in downtown Albuquerque.

“The overarching theme for CorpusElectric is the cosmos, and all the students’ garments incorporate this theme,” said media arts professor Megan Jacobs. “In this project, we sewed hidden LilyPad microcontrollers into fabric to create interactive theatrical garments that change lights, color and movement.”

One dress made with origami paper has LED lights sewn into its skirt, giving the effect of a multicolored glowing globe when illuminated. A long flowing dress imbedded with fiber optic swirls like a sparkling constellation around the model as she walks. Two models wearing a white dress and a white suit light up like shooting stars when they paint with laser pointers on the garments.

CorpusElectric is a collaboration between the Highlands University Media Arts Department, Taos Runway Vigilantes, an avant-garde fashion team, and 516 ARTS, an independent nonprofit arts venue based in Albuquerque.

The Highlands University students created their wearable tech art  in the Projects for the Community class Jacobs taught. They used the physical computing savvy gained in media arts professor Miriam Langer’s class.

Jacobs’ students also created all the audio and video elements for the CorpusElectric performance.

Students in her class include Johnny Alvarez, Daniela de Angeli, Nick Casados, Gabriel Garcia, Stephanie Marcus, Eli Menchaca, Shanoaleigh Roseby, Deanna Threadgill and Matthew Threadgill. Stacy Romero was the graduate teaching assistant.

Media arts students will also model the CorpusElectric garments, including Casados, Romero, Roseby Elizabeth Gomez and Tara Trudell.
“We are incredibly proud of our students for being recognized at an international conference of this stature,” Jacobs said. “These students went beyond my wildest dreams in terms of their creativity and professionalism on the CorpusElectric project.”

Jacobs said the students are now part of a new global movement to use wearable microcontroller technology in a vast array of applications in the medical field, athletics, the military, and much more.

“Our fashion application is just the tip of the iceberg,” Jacobs said. 
High school students in Las Vegas and Taos also created garments and accessories for CorpusElectric.

Romero taught a CorpusElectric workshop to Las Vegas students. Nina Silfverberg and Tatyana DePavloff of Taos taught the workshop for Taos students.

“Stacy was a phenomenal teacher, helping the students understand complex physical computing concepts and how to implement them into their designs,” Jacobs said.

“I wanted to inspire the creative process in these high school students and empower them to use this exciting new technology,” said Romero, a West Las Vegas High School graduate. “I also wanted them to understand the mystery behind so much of the new media used today.”

The CorpusElectric project was made possible through funding from the International Symposium on Electronic Art, Intel, New Mexico Highlands University, AmeriCorps, the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, and SparkFun Electronics.