Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Paula Vogels has woven tubular speakers from copper wire and nylon fishing line to create an installation that explores the sounds and labour conditions of the textile industry.
The Re-Sounding Yarns project, shown at Dutch Design Week 2022, consists of eight suspended speakers that play a soundscape gathered from different weaving environments, ranging from the gentle rhythms of handweavers to the thunderous power looms used in factories.
When a sound signal is fired into the speakers, the copper wire transmits this signal to small magnets fixed to either end of the woven tubes, creating an electromagnetic field that vibrates and thereby generates a sound.
“I’m allowing the fabric to voice its production,” Vogels explained.
A weaver herself, Vogels designed the installation to counter the perception of textiles as “silent” and highlight sound as an integral part of the weaving process.
“When my loom isn’t working properly, I don’t see it first – I hear it,” she told Dezeen. “I started thinking about the way I use the loom almost like an instrument, where I make these rhythms and the more rhythmic I get, the more productive I am.”
“And what does weaving sound like in different settings of the larger industry, which obviously spans from hand weavers in specialist textile labs to mass industrial weaving facilities,” she added. “How can I actually understand sound as an indicator of what is happening in that space?”
Vogels undertook deep listening and ethnographic research to understand these different scales and discovered that – quite opposite to her own practice – the sound in some industrial settings can be so loud that it actually poses a danger to workers’ health.
And while workers in western mills are usually given sound protection, Vogels says this is not the case everywhere in the world.
“Sounds are revealed not as inconsequential by-products of textile production but as indicators of the weavers’ socio-political contexts, exploitative supply chains and labour conditions,” she explained.
Vogels made her speakers from colourful monofilament fishing line and copper wire, hand-woven together in a circular pattern that could be opened out to form tubes.
The copper wire is responsible for carrying the electrical signal necessary to make the structure vibrate and produce sound, while the translucency of the monofilament is meant to showcase that there is nothing inside the speaker making the sound but the textile structure itself.
To amplify the resulting audio, Vogels inserted a clear plastic tube into each woven sleeve and bookended it with black listening cones. Together, the installation of eight speakers, shaped a little like double-ended trumpets, produces an audible hum similar to a white noise machine.
Vogels recorded most of the samples for the soundscape herself while visiting different mills and working in her own studio. These soundbites were then looped and layered together with recordings from giant factories in Bangladesh, which she found on YouTube.
Vogels was part of the Design Academy Eindhoven Graduation Show 2022 at Dutch Design Week.
Other textile designs on show as part of the design festival included an alternative-leather clothing collection made from soil and a burnt and shorn rug that visualises how drought is affecting Dutch landscapes.
The photography is by Ronals Smits.