Early Jacquard looms used punch cards to automate weaving of patterns and designs. This punch card technology also was used to program early computers and store binary code. Phillip Stearns, a New York-based artist exploring the intersection of digital media and textile design, developed a project that combined the two histories to provide a visual representation of the nature of human memory. “I tend to focus on condensing [media technologies, electronics and electronic media] in such a way that the technologies, tools, and media themselves become entangled with what would normally be read as the content or the message,” says Stearns.
His work, “Fragmented Memory,” is a triptych of large woven tapestries completed at the Audax Textielmuseum’s Textiellab, Tilburg, The Netherlands. Stearns began with extracting his computer’s physical memory—which is stored as pits and lands in a thin metal film, the alignment of magnetic domains on a metal platter. The computer user programs different uses of the data, which is taken up from all different storage locations or forms. The binary data were converted to images using custom software that grouped six bits into RGB pixel color values, resulting in 64 colors. The images were then mapped to the woven color palette (eight colors of yarn using variations on a satin weave) and woven on a computerized industrial Jacquard loom. The images depict fragments of the computer’s memory and can be “read” by the techno-savvy. For more of Stearns’s digital/visual works, visit his website.