Soft switch sculptures

Artist and sculptor Claes Oldenburg is probably best known for his public art installations that play with very large scale objects. Another theme in his work is the idea of "soft" that he applies in unexpected ways to everyday, ubiquitous objects. With this piece, Oldenburg takes ordinary light switches and applies an unexpected material that makes it feel soft and squishy. This particular piece makes me think of all the soft-switch explorations coming out of the DIY culture, where designers and tinkerers are investigating new ways to turn ordinary switches and sensors into soft and flexible mechanisms.

Living, breathing sculptures as second skin

Extra-Soft (XS) labs has created some beautiful pieces that change shape, reveal hidden layers, and expose the wearer's skin by using the shape memory alloy, nitinol. The material contracts when current is applied to it. Some experiments include Kukkia-a kinetic flowering dress, a felt jellyfish that opens and closes, and Vilkas-a dress that shortens to reveal the wearer's knee (similar to Chalayan's shape-shifting garments  posted below).

Using nitinol, Joanna Berzowska (XSlabs) and Di Mainstone recently collaborated on a line of futuristic-looking wearable sculptures that act as living, breathing second skins called SKORPIONS. One of the garments, Enleon, is a play on fear and desire. Its pod or cocoon-like shape gives the wearer a sense of security, while its exterior kinetic scales reveal a mirrored layer that reflects light. The movement is actually quite vulnerable and charming. See it in action here:

The antithesis of original function

I recently discovered work by Joon Youn Paek who has some terrific explorations that challenge the use of everyday products by augmenting their original functionality. Pillowig, makes a humorous statement on our rapidly growing sleep-deprived lives by offering a functional pillow that you can wear as a hat. And Polite Umbrella adds charm by allowing you to shrink one side of an umbrella or the entire thing when passing by someone (I laughed out loud when I watched the demo of it in action).

One of my favorite projects is his exploration into sports garments and equipment, called Spoetry. He claims that the project "promotes self-expression by modifying sports gear", but a more interesting outcome that he hasn't articulated is that his augmentations force the wearer to interact, move and gesture in the exact opposite way that was intended in the original product (they also happen to be gorgeous). For example, when two people are riding on a bike, the person in the back normally sits facing the person in the front so they can hold on and see where they're going. His tandem bike helmet forces the passenger to sit facing backwards, stripping them of the ability to see where they're going and to hold on for dear life.