Air as Material: The Conceptual Fashion of Ying Gao


Session Title:

  • Wearable Technologies

Presentation Title:

  • Air as Material: The Conceptual Fashion of Ying Gao




  • The expressive garments of Montreal designer Ying Gao are made of air and light.  Bridging art, science and technology, they materialize the immaterial as a kind of sheath mediating between the real and fantasy, the body and its environment. Their poetic effects are developed through computational systems, motorized sensors, pneumatic and interactive technologies, electronics – and distinctive aesthetic grace.

    My presentation centers on the conceptual core of her practice and on the specific property of the ‘immaterial’ in her work – the significance of air, light, water, transparency, breath and related animating features and interfaces.

    Ying Gao’s works react to their immediate environment; a focus on the urban and its cultures, social character and transformations is central to her work.  In the pneumatic garments of Walking City – influenced by Japanese origami – triggers such as wind, movement and touch activate each of three dresses, which expand, contract, unfurl. Index of indifference (2006) uses a software program that compiles statistical data concerning Internet users who declared themselves “indifferent” to political, economic or cultural issues; Gao manipulates this data to modify the basic structure of 10 men’s shirts over time to reflect this “index of indifference”, made visible through the shreds of the shirts that still remain after the statistically relevant percentage of fabric is excised.  In the installation Living Pod, one garment, equipped with micro-motors and light sensors, breathes when a viewer-activated light source triggers the sensor, while a second garment ‘mimics’ the first.  Her recent research has been on “modulatable” garments that integrate microelectronic technology, and is inspired by transformations in the urban environments of Berlin and Nagoya.

    Ying Gao is a professor at University of Quebec in Montreal. Her pioneering work is positioned along 3 axes: within the art world in its aesthetic and conceptual foundations, as a professional engagement within the fashion industry and operating a ‘laboratory’ model of research. Her critical and poetic garments contrast with the instrumentality of the field of industrial research in wearable and smart fabrics, while also challenging stereotypes within fashion.