Augustina Bello-Decurnex talks with Kelly Walters
Augustina Bello-Decurnex is a Material and Textile designer based in Boston. She is a native of Uruguay and studied as an industrial designer in textiles and fashion in Montevideo before coming to the United States. In 2013, she graduated from RISD with her MFA in Textiles. Her work explores the connection between 3D modeling, industrial design, creative programming in conjunction with traditional textile techniques. Augustina is currently a Material Innovation Designer at Converse.

My name is Kelly and I’m a graphic design grad here at RISD. Some of the areas that I have been looking at recently are the relationship between textiles and graphic design. Looking to you in terms of inspiration because of your textiles background, I was curious to hear a little bit more about how you ended up in the field.

I definitely had a winding road. I don’t even know how I got into textiles, well I know, but it definitely wasn’t an A to B road. In my undergrad I started as an industrial designer and I didn’t enjoy the programs. I felt like it really wasn’t loose enough for me, so I went into textiles and fashion but in Uruguay … The textiles and fashion teachers there, were more influenced by theater and set design. They were half artists, half designers … So when I finished undergrad, I was totally done with textiles and fashion. It was then that I started working as an industrial designer for a couple of years. I also worked as a constume assistant, and then did two years working as a graphic designer, at that point becuase I was confused! I realized that I really liked printing and that it was a combination of all of my interests. It’s in-between graphic design and textile design and industrial design … I’ve never been a traditional designer in a sense. And actually I talked about this in my lecture to the textile students here at RISD from a few days ago. I’ve never been a specific kind of designer. I don’t know, I’ve always enjoyed the space in between things.

I knew that I wanted to come to grad school and loved the textiles program here at RISD. At the time, I was also doing more and more material development for people and I wanted to go to a program that would allow me to explore that further. When I got here I started working with knits because I had done a lot of printing. … I’m sorry if this is a lot.

No, this is good. This gets me familiar with what you’re into!

My dad is an engineer and my mom is a cooking teacher. Growing up I’ve always had this mixture of very rational/logic thinking and artistic thinking … I’ve always been someone who has been into science and art. Textiles has that kind of combination because you’re using machines, you’re using structure, its very logical and technological also because of the combination of all of these components. I think as a textile designer, you learn how to use different textile machinery so you can ultimately transcend the machine to express your own language as a designer. As a printer, I started to ask myself “What is my identity?” as a knit designer. The answer happened very organically. I discovered and started working a lot with Thermal Plastics because I was working with a heat press and mastering the very technical aspect of knitting. I knew how to weave and make all of these structures, but how can it stop being about the technique and technology and more about the expressive quality … My work deals alot with identity and coming to terms with South American and moving to the United States.

From growing up in this place (Uruguay), its like ummm … Have you read any magical realism?

No. What is that?

So in literature its writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Carlos Fuentes. For people that are not from South America its sounds like super weird things start to happen and it makes no sense and appears to be total fantasy. But the funny thing is that, I come from very real place where those things are not fantasy. It actually happens. For example, in my undergrad school there used to be a jail from the late 1800s and it still looked like a jail when I went to school there. At one point part of the school and the jail were functioning at the same time. One day, before I came to the school, a famous murderer escaped from jail through the printshop.

Wow. That’s crazy.

I have the craziest storiest from that time and so my work has always dealt with those kinds of things. Tricking the person that’s looking at something. How can you have those different layers and weird juxtapositions? It’s a lot about magic and transformations, and how those situations can shift from one thing to another. So my knits are actually in between other things. I was thinking a lot about materiality and immateriality. I was 3D rendering knits and using interactive embroidery and arduino.

So talking about that, with arduino and interactive means to influence your process, how did you explore that, and how did it shape the work? For example, with arduino you have to use code, I’m curious how that came about?

If you think about textiles, we’re always coding something. It’s like you’re coding the machines that you’re using. Actually, computers developed from textile languages. The first computer was a Jacquard Loom. So we, as textile designers, are already used to this structure. You have a very logical structure, and then you add materials and color and that’s your way of adding an expressive component to the mix. So if you look at my work, people that always ask me how did you make that. I feel like the process stops being as important and becomes more about a means to an end. For me coding is an analogy to any other textile processes.

The same way of making as something else?

Yes, its exactly the same. If you look at how someone programs a Jacquard loom or how someone programs a sewing machine, the techniques they are using are basically CNC driven. Instead of cutting, the machines work with yarn. Even in the industry when I try to explain what CNC knitting machine is, when I finish explaining it they’re like,“Oh so it’s like a 3D Printer with yarn.” You don’t use Rhino to program, you use a different program and its program to make it program on its own. This type of programming essentially uses just ones and zeros. The origin of the ones and zeros came from the Jacquard Loom. You can see a picture at the Textiles Department because they used to have one of those here. The first computer started with perforated cards … It all started with textiles. {Augustina’s RHINO Knits}

I mean it is different because you’re using electronics, but the programming and the coding part is the least foreign thing to the process.

Its funny because I feel like, the impression or the stereoptype of textiles and what people perceive is the process, includes misconceptions around hand knitting and physically printed objects.

I feel like that’s the difference between industrial textiles and crafts. There are textiles that deal with structure, like weaving and knitting and you have printing … that’s closer to painting. Structure is actually very logical and there are things that you can do and things that you can not do.

And because its based on a structure to help output at the end.

Not even, it is structure on its own. Weaving its a good example, where you have one yard on top and another on the bottom. This formation is basically like one and zero. That’s where it all came from. Its already binary.

So since its binary, its already in code form?

Yes, and thats how we work. That’s why when people ask me alot about technology and how it influences textiles. There are a lot of people that don’t work this way, but in the way I work its not about innovation and its not about the machinery. Everything we do involves machines, so usually we try not to be gimcky about it … The conversation when its interesting is about what is the expressive quality or manufacturing method …

So primarily you’ve used Arduino, but have you ever explored HTML or coding online?

Because I studied graphic design prior to becoming a texile designer. I learned HTML, Dreamweaver and did mainly web work for about 2 years. I learned how to code in Flash and it horrible and I hated it … I still remember CSS and how to edit all of those things. I do my own website … I think coding for me its not something that’s scary anymore. And also, I had an amazing teacher here. I took an independent study with Lauren McCarthy from Digital Media … I learned a lot from her about Arduino. So I think now working with coding and these more computational aspects is like learning how to learn. Because it always evolves and its always changing and you always have to learn to keep up with the changes.

Now you’re working at Converse. How did you end up there? How has you process evolved in your professional practice?

I knew that I wanted to work in innovation and I am a material designer. I mean I am a textile designer but but I consider myself a material designer.

A material designer would mean … ? The actually physical quality?

Its a bit beyond the textile itself. I’m designing experiences and I think that might be my industrial design background, but I’m interested in the relationship of the material with the consumer. The experience that someone gets between the material and the end product and what’s the relationship with material to the manufacturing.

How are you incorporating these techniques in your professional practice at the Material Innovation Department at Converse?

The thing with Converse, is that we have a really exciting projects. I’m basically working for creative people, so I can relate to them. Its very open. Its a fashion brand and its an iconic product. It’s a heritage brand that has a personality. The spirit of the brand is a lot about hacking technology and humanizing technology. I don’t know, I’ve bet that you’ve worn Converse sneakers once before?

Yes, I do. Yeah, and its probably all about pushing the brand forward to explore new ways of being seen by consumers.

Yes, but Converse shoes are never going to feel like spaceships. Because that’s not what the brand is about. People have that special, very personal relationship with them. I used to work in the denim industry before and I feel the relationship that you have your converse shoes, especially the Chuck Taylors is kind of the same that you have with your jeans. That its something that ages and grows with you. Kid consumers are an example of how they continue to wear the shoes and duck tape them after they’ve fallen apart and break. Its very grungy, very young.

It’s been really nice because I’ve been able to maintain my spirit with how I relate to technology. It’s become more of, how do I hack things, how do things become more human, even though it’s very technological, how do they become closer to you. It’s more of an experience.

I think that it’s also all about the processes and not getting stuck. And thinking about how they mean something too, right? As you’re making it just gets to a point where it just feels right and you’re making these things flow from one place to the other. And, does it make sense? Or is the gimick that outputs something that you can make something move? That’s definitely something that I’ve been thinking a lot about. I feel like the meaningful work comes from the reason behind using that process.

There’s something about textiles that makes you feel so comfortable because you’re surrounded by them, yet sometimes coding feels so foreign. So as a designer exploring, how do you make sense of those two worlds. Why are you mixing those two things together? What are you getting out of it? These are the questions I keep asking myself all the time. If you keep on asking these questions and it still makes sense then you’re going in the right direction … I don’t know I’ve always that kind of approach. Maybe its my weird South American brain.

Noo. I love when people have their own flavor and bring it into their work because it influences things and shakes things up. We do get used to processes and seeing form in a certain way and thinking that that’s all there is. So I think its cool to be informed by all of these things that are happening around us to help shape how we make. Because it’s the only way we continue to move forward and do things that haven’t been done before. What do you think the future of textile design will be like with the integration of these digital techniques?

The computer is just another tool. It’s just another machine. It’s about how you use the tool to make it become personal again. Because it can become so generic and removed. The work can be done by minions. But I think that people are really craving for that. Because technology today is a given.

I don’t know. That’s my two cents on it.

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