Katia Vega // Art && Code: Homemade, 1/16/2021
And welcome back to the Saturday afternoon session of Art&&Code: Homemade. Our festival about digital tools and crafty approaches. This is our afternoon session on our final day. We have one session after this in the evening. But for the afternoon session we are going to
have four presenters Katia Vega, Jorvon Moss, Tatyana Mustakos, and Daniela Rosner. We're going to begin with Katia Vega and if you're just tuning in and would like to be a part of the chats go to art&&code.com/homemade to register and you'll be able to be a part of the discord where we're having our conversations and chats about the speakers and their work. Katia Vega is a professor at the department of design at the University of California, Davis where she directs the interactive organisms lab. Her laboratory leads new explorations in novel interfaces in areas
such as beauty technology, body modification technologies, and growable interfaces. She's also the author of Beauty Technology Designing Seamless Interfaces for Wearable Computing: Katia Vega. Hello everyone. I'm super excited to be here and to be part of this great festival and share also some of my passion, some of my research projects. And I will be talking a little bit more of what I was creating in the last maybe 10 years and also kind of like behind the scenes of what I was creating too. So I am super excited to share what I was doing with you guys. So first, while talking with the organizers, I was thinking on what will be the most interesting thing to share and how to go even beyond all the traditional way to that I present my work. And one of the
recommendations was to talk a little bit more about your passion and about yourself. I thought like 'oh yes of course I can talk about my favorite topic, myself.' And I decided to talk about what drives my creation and in that way you will see different fields merging together and fields that maybe I wasn't expected to be exploring from. Before, a little bit of my background. I studied computer science. I am from Peru and when I finished my career and maybe I don't know if that happened to you at some point or if you are studying and you didn't know how to move forward. I was in that situation. I didn't know what to do next. And unfortunately in Peru there are not many research labs at least in HCI in computer science.
And actually that's kind of like a very privilege I thought from other countries and I didn't even know that being a researcher was a career. I was just like do you actually get paid for create and to be a researcher? That wasn't something that was very common in in my environment. But I was very fortunate to talk with someone. He was a researcher, a Peruvian researcher, and said like yes you could apply to scholarships and study a master's degree, a PhD degree and become a researcher. And that's what I did. I went to Brazil. I did my master's degree. It was more about virtual worlds. And then I moved into
creating other devices. I started to learn about wearable devices. And I started my PhD around that topic. And I was very fortunate to move to Hong Kong for one year. I was over there in an arts department that was very different from any of my colleagues that were going to computer science labs all over the world. And then I started thinking about how we in computer science is great, and we usually create maybe just following, solving a specific problem. And when I was in
arts, I was thinking like okay what's the problem. What's the solution. What are you creating. And they were expressing more their passion. So that kind of- and I will show you some projects that show that, current passion and that passion I had also at that time. And I think art gave me that possibility
to express this futuristic technology and make it more available for other people to think about, not just as a prototype as a paper or something that you cannot see but you could actually see and touch and making performances and all that. So I'll show you a little bit about my journey. I put some pictures of me over here. And you could see that I was very involved in learning about tattoos and using a tattoo gun. That it was kind of like an amazing experience, because it
has a motor and moves and you have that feeling. But also I was using biosensors biotechnology. Things that changed its color and that was something very different for me. I was going to chemical labs to try to metalize different components and I felt like I was a computer scientist. But you usually don't wear this white coat. And I had that experience to become a scientist, and use that white coat, and going to the lab, and make you creating like kind of like a recipe through through chemistry, and create all those different kind of objects.
I would introduce also to electronics and circuits and I mixed all that together not just to create all this research and papers and projects as I mentioned, but also art exhibitions to showcase what I was feeling. And in this idea of what I was feeling, I was always thinking about and I continue thinking about in this question and what is the meaning of your skin. And I'm sure if I ask you this question you will come with different ideas: a protection layer of your body or the skin is kind of also censored you could touch a surface and know if something is too cold, too hot, at the texture of objects. And you could also think about If something is too soft. You could understand your environment just by touching it and your skin. And that's what I want to talk to you today it's also a way that we express ourself. We express ourselves in many ways. And we modify for our body. We modify our
skin. Our skin could be a canvas that we could be representing different ways that we wanted to be seen. And in that way I wanna talk about cosmetics. And if you think about cosmetics over the time they didn't change very much. So I even right now I have a red lipstick, my mom has a red lipstick, my grandma has a red lipstick. The functionality of the cosmetics didn't change that much. So I was thinking on if we already are using these products for highlighting or hiding some of my our appearance, how we embed technology.
So I created all this concept called beauty technology. This was actually my PhD project that I was using cosmetics or beauty products that's embedded circuits into them. So our skin, these two matters square of a skin that we have, it could be an interactive platform. I was thinking for a long time or what could be a good way to introduce to you guys these concepts and these ideas. And one of my main motivation on the projects that you
will be seeing is how to make my prototypes invisible. How to make an eyelash that it could become a circuit to look like an eyelash. And if you see in my video, and you can see I hold you right now an eyelash. And this is a conductive eyelash. But if you see over the camera and maybe if you see that in-person and some other opportunity you could check that it looks like a normal fake eyelash the one that you could buy in a drugstore.
So I will show to you some of how I create these prototypes and how to make them to be seamless so you could still be yourself but wearing technology. So you could see over here these prototypes I call it conductive makeup. I was again wearing this white coat and going to a chemistry lab and using all these different materials. So I was able to create these eyelashes that now are conductive. I worked a lot with artists for this first project that you can see over here. In this first video- oh sorry, oh let me see. In this first video you could see that
we apply these eyelashes one on the top of the eyelid or the other one in the bottom part of the eyelid. And it works like a switch when she blinks the different light patterns turned off on and off. And for me I was very excited and you could see over here in the right side. This is me also wearing these eyelashes. I was a superhero. And just by blinking I was able to turn on this drone and make it fly. Like in my free time I'm a superhero. And just by blinking I could make things levitate and again I try to make things invisible conducting materials that could be embedded into makeup. And you could have
these micro movements that we have. Like that is blinking, but now we go interact with our world. Otherwise, I was working in this kind of project. I was working with Felipe. Felipe was six-time Brazilian championship in jiu-jitsu. And unfortunately during a training now he cannot move his body. So instead of having superhero for controlling a drone he wanted to control the tv. And having that independence inspired in Felipe
I created this other project I will be showing to you. And this project, I call it kínisi that means movement in Greek, that you will see this. This is an art project that I receive it in different places and I work with different video professionals for. To show this possibility that your skin could be an interface. And you will see in the video how
different light patterns turn on just by blinking, raising an eye brow, smiling, and closing the lips. [music] And, of course, our body is also our hair. So I was working with hair extensions in a very similar way to the eyelashes. So metallizing them with a chemical process, and the chemicals I was using I was actually using them to look like my hair kind of brown. And connecting that fake eyelash that now is conductive but looks like a hair to a my a microcontroller has Bluetooth, I could send that information through a device. And in this
case you could think of a recording conversation sending a message. Or imagine if you're in a risky situation you don't take out your phone, you could send your location to the police for example. Our body is also our nails. And I created this other project called tech nails that embed this small shape inside of the finger nails. And my main motivation also was to interact with devices with these RFIDs. And if you think about for example when you want to pay
the Metro you need all these cards so you have to attach that or be approximate your card to that reader to know who you are so you could go and pay the Metro. So imagine all these RFIDs we have in our fingertip, so each of our finger could be one for paying the Metro, another one for paying Starbucks, or another one for opening the door of your office. And one thing I was interested in is I wanted to- this device you don't need to touch anything for creating the interaction. So we create this aqua addition project. A DJ controller into the water. So the DJ put her fingernails into the water to change tracks and add sound effects. And just for sharing also like how I do create. I use traditional beauty products. Like for example, you can see over here my fingernails that I was even going to a salon using gel nails, fake nails. And then embedded these microchips or this RFID on that nail you can see. This is my very
first prototype The very first time I did it, my nails looks very bulky and big. But then I started to do like a smaller and smaller going through this, also passion to have more seamless devices. Again we share all this concept in the Design Seamless Interfaces for Wearable Computing Beauty Technology book. One thing I noticed is that right now, even you could see some startups that they are, trying to do this idea of the fingernails for playing the metro in London, in China, and Hong Kong. Everything I want to share with you, I already shared to you. How we could have an interactive body. An interactive body through cosmetics like makeup that you blink and turn the
lights. Or fingernails that you can pay the Metro with your fingernail. Or just by touching your hair you send a message to the police so your body could become an interface in that way. But then I was interested- in kind of like maybe going deeper into this the skin and make it kind of like a more deeper connection. And to read information that you usually don't have access to. If you think about the skin as we go back to my first question, the skin could be also a display. And
if you think about that when you get nervous or when something is going on into your body, you could get red, you could have acne which also your skin itself is giving information for you. Maybe taking action or even some kind of behaviors that could be psychological or physical behaviors could be exposed in your skin. So I was thinking about tattoos and this is a collaboration project when I was a postdoc at MIT Media Lab. And we were thinking on a collaboration with also Harvard medical school. And we're
thinking about the skin and how we could reveal information that you usually don't have access to. Instead of making a blood test it could be a tattoo. That we could replace these inks, traditional inks, with biosensors and they change color and react and give it information for your body. So you could think about for example glucose levels for people that have diabetes that goes up and down. So you could see your tattoo could be changing and giving
you that information when you will need more insulin. We're doing some prototypes that showcase that idea of course. And we were using also different biosensors like pH glucose, sodium. And, of course, I cannot do a tattoo right now for you guys. We were working also with tattoo artists because they know about the skin, they know about design in our own canvas that is our skin. So that that connection with the artist itself gives us that possibility. But we were showing that as a proof of concept, of a futuristic idea that hopefully right now- actually there are more biotech labs working, improving those biosensors using that as tattoos. Similar than that, I'm thinking about again how we could have a deeper connection through our body.
We could think about these dental ligatures, this one that goes around these braces. And we develop them with hydrogel and also with biosensors. So they are interacting with your own saliva. So if we think about this as a simulation, you could think about a device and when it goes closer to that ligature you can identify what's the color of it. And then you can send it as a history on your phone. We were working with biosensors on nitric oxide ph uric acid. And this will give you a lot of information also about your body. And for me all this passion that I'm talking is a way that we modify the body. And
you could think about makeup and we could think about plastic surgeries, clarification tattoos. And I didn't invent these, these different body modification techniques. I use them and invest technology into them so we could have a deeper connection through our body and understanding more ourselves. But also communicating more information is a connection between wearable technology and our body fluids. Like you could think about tears. The suit when you sweat, your saliva, your interstitial fluid, and how those fluids could be connected with material design and also biotech. And just finally I just want to mention
something that is also interesting for my lab. And my student last year was working on that. That is growable interfaces. So you think about assets designers. We have a problem, we create all these devices, and then we put that in a shelf. Or maybe we just put that on the landfill. And we are
not very conscious of our role in creation. But also if we are creating products that could be sustainable. So she created these ideas called growable interfaces. So by using mycelium that is hydrosystem water resistant, you could embed electronics into them. In this case, she was preparing that like as a small layer very thin layer, so it could be flexible too. And we could put electronics around that and we could create these wearables.
And not just wearable devices like that but other interactive objects. And then you could imagine like all the objects that you even have right now in your labs. What happened with that device. But if you reuse for example the electronics, you go take out your flora or your arduino and just compost the material. So this is what I wanted to share with you guys is this whole idea of thinking about our different kind of organisms that we could see thinking about your body and yourself how your fluids are interacting and also changing all the time in response of your metabolism. And I want you to
kind of like move farther from not just thinking about maybe a bottle or a switch, but it's your whole self that could be interacting and changing its behavior. And you could see it or you could kind of express it in a different way. I just want to thank my lab. I'm very happy that they are students that come from all over the world but also I'm very happy to have women in technology that are interested in these topics. And we have some applications open from the MFA if you also wanted
to apply. You could also write to me in an email . And yes this is what I wanted to share with you. Thank you so much and please if you have any questions just put that in discord. I will go back and check them and yeah. So you know Golan if you also have any questions. Yeah we got a lot. Katia you have a bunch of fans. There's a lot of really great responses
in discord. And we have maybe three minutes or so. So I want to kind of hit some questions with you. One question comes from Kate Hartman who asks your work in beauty technology is beautiful. Is the use of the term beauty for you meant more to refer to the cosmetic aspects in the sort of the cultural slot or rather to the finesse of the wearing and integration techniques that are employed? And also she says have you developed any ideas for ugly technology? That's fantastic yeah. So when I was coming out with the name I actually was thinking more on the products itself. For me it was like usually woman itself, they are an inspiration for me because I was, as I mentioned, I was in Hong Kong and I was looking how amazing those techniques could be. Like placing an eyelash in the Metro is not a simple task. And like going to a salon like every two weeks, I spending maybe two or three hours for having these gel nails it was also kind of like this motivation and this mixture between like this fingernails with hello kitty and crystals that it's kind of like a deeper connection, cultural deeper connection to the product itself. And if I think about the beauty product itself,
yes it has like for that name, I was thinking about that particular product name. And about ugly technology I didn't think about that actually. Like as a series I didn't know that it's like an ugly technology. I usually think about the way we modify our body and it could be beautiful in many ways. So I kind of inspired in many things even the scarification. And as you can see also tattoos. But I will definitely that's also a really cool idea.
I will definitely go deeper into that. But one more thing maybe I would like to share about this products. After I was creating them I noticed that it's not just for a particular group of people. You could think about for example, you think about the tattoos. You could think there is a specific group of the population that could be using the tattoos. But after we released a prototype, we had hundreds of emails mainly for people who have diabetes. And since this person, they have a kid of two years old that he cannot communicate too
much with his parent yet. And would like to have a tattoo to know what's going on with his kid. Or this other person that his nerves has been 40 years of his life pinching himself like 10 times a day. And he thinks that having a tattoo gives that possibility so I just thought that these products opens the possibility. Like the users or the audience that it traditionally has.