Agent Unicorn – A Fashionable Brain Scan

Anouk Wipprecht is a Hi-Tech Fashion Designer from the Netherlands. She combines fashion and technology with engineering, science and interaction/user experience design. Her work is quite unusual and unique: she creates technological couture that moves, breathes and reacts to the environment around the human body. Anouk is currently working as an artist at the Ars Electronica Futurelab in Austria within the SPARKS Residency. During her stay, she created “Agent Unicorn”, an accessory shaped like a horn on a unicorn, for children that have ADHD or autism. The horn-shaped headpiece measures brain activity with g.SAHARA active dry electrodes from g.tec. We had the chance to talk about her work.

Anouk Wipprecht Profile Picture(c) Anouk Wipprecht

Anouk, we are amazed by your work. You are a fashion designer, but in your work you use state-of-the-art technology. Can you tell us more about this?

Anouk Wipprecht: “I am working with fashion technology and I’m combining interaction design with all kinds of stuff like robotics or biosignal feedback. For me, my work has a lot to do with communication and interaction with the environment and people. What I’m researching is the notion of space around the body – the intimate, social and public space, personal space. For the personal space, for example, I made an interactive Smoke Dress that acts like an octopus. So the octopus puts out a cloud of ink and then dives away. So I made a dress that covers the body with smoke as soon as someone approaches. It is some sort of a protection shield and says in a non-verbal way that someone should go away.”

smoke dressSmoke Dress (c) Anouk Wipprecht

Anouk Wipprecht: “The Spider Dress is another non-verbal way of communication. It depends how other people walk to the person wearing the spider dress. I got inspired by the territorial displays of arachnids. So if somebody else approaches the wearer quickly, the robotic arms of the dress go in an aggressive defense posture. But when somebody walks slowly, the robotic arms go down. Also the wearer has control of the behavior of the robotic arms. If he or she has a rapid breath, the dress returns to a defense posture. If the person sighs calmly or seems relieved, the arms remain calm too. It is a bit different for animals though. When cats feel uncomfortable, they scratch you and walk away. However, humans don’t do that. They feel uncomfortable but don’t say anything. They remain feeling uncomfortable and disturbed in their personal zone. So the robotic arms of the Spider Dress go up when the person feels uncomfortable. They can express how you feel without even telling.”

spider dressSpider Dress (c) Anouk Wipprecht

Your work is all about communication. Why are you bringing fashion and communication together?

Anouk Wipprecht: “I want to go a little bit more in the mental state of things. Fashion and clothing is not only protecting us. It is also communicating something about us. For example, wearing a suit says something about who we are or where we are.  So I see fashion as a means of non-verbal communication. I ask myself what can we do with that and how can we help non-verbal communication in different ways by creating these devices and playing with emotions. For instance, the Spider Dress shows that entering the personal space can cause anxiety.”

Agent Unicorn_1Anouk Wipprecht visiting g.tec in Schiedlberg (c) Anouk Wipprecht

You are currently working on “Agent Unicorn” within your residency at Ars Electronica Futurelab, which is why you use g.SAHARA active dry electrodes from g.tec to measure brain activity. What is it exactly? And is there a special target group you are focusing on in this project?

Anouk Wipprecht: “I’m working on a unicorn-horn-shaped headpiece for autistic children. It’s a little camera inside a unicorn horn because I want to create extra eyes for them. I think the headpiece is expressive and communicative at the same time. And children with autism and ADHD syndrome have problems with both. The headpiece should help to find out what might trigger them and give a better understanding of their individual distractions. It is also a very playful device, because these are children, so anything that you do with children on the topic of gaming can support them in being themselves much more. I want to give these children a little bit more of a playful aspect in the medical environment.”

Agent Unicorn_8Agent Unicorn (c) Anouk Wipprecht

Anouk Wipprecht: “The g.SAHARA EEG electrodes in the headpiece send a signal to the camera. When the signal gets really strong, the camera turns on and starts recording the child’s experience, for example during a visit in the zoo, while brain activity gets measured.”

Agent Unicorn_4Positioning of g.SAHARA Electrodes (c) Anouk Wipprecht

Why is there a camera that films the children’s environment?

Anouk Wipprecht: “I want to show what trigger the children during the day. I think when kids use this device, you can find out what distracted them. This is also very useful for therapy. Therapists can have a better understanding of what triggers or distracts the child so the treatment can be done more efficiently. Also, I think therapists can show the children their personal triggers to make them understand what happened so they can see how they move more consciously through their world. For example, if the EEG signals show a peak at 2 o’clock, which means that the child has been triggered by something, and both therapist and the child can have a look at the camera footage to find out what exactly happened at this time. I think this can be used to learn with autism and ADHD in real-time.”

Agent Unicorn_7Agent Unicorn 3D model (c) Anouk Wipprecht

EEG brain signalsEEG signals (c) Anouk Wipprecht

Are you personally involved with autism?

Anouk Wipprecht: “I’m not involved with autism or ADHD but I know a lot of people who are. When I hear stories about children that could only leave their room hidden under a blanket, then it somehow hurts me. The level of comfort is often missing. The most interesting part for me is the fact that they have communication and interaction problems. Agent Unicorn should see how children react to colors, food, animals, and people, and find out when the child becomes particularly attentive. It can make therapy much easier. And I would love to make these kids feel more comfortable. If I can do that with Agent Unicorn I would be really happy. I want to give these children a place of comfort and to open up communication, and give medical devices a fashionable twist to make usage more pleasant and playful.”

Is it just a passion of yours to connect fashion with interactive high technology or do you see fashion technology as something that should be part of our everyday lives?

Anouk Wipprecht: “Well, I think of technology in a more different way than I did when I was younger. As a child I always looked up to technology and I was fascinated by it. Now I have a Smartphone and I am surrounded by lots of technology. And I find myself stressed out by the need of using technology so much. Technology came into our lives to help us, actually. But now it is a compass of stress. I want to see how we can use technology in different ways to get notifications, do communication and socialization.”

Agent Unicorn_6 Agent Unicorn 3D model (c) Anouk Wipprecht

Your style is pretty unique and fascinating. What inspires you? Where do you get your ideas from? And why do you choose organic forms in your design?

Anouk Wipprecht: “My work is dedicated to the psychology or the emotion or the sensuality. In my design I am embedding the idea of emotions, like fear, as you can see in the Spider Dress. The design is also very inspired by the artwork of Ernst Haeckel, who was a German biologist. He considered psychology as a part of physiology. I find his research very beautiful, because sometimes you can see what it is, but sometimes you wonder what you are looking at. It is interesting because everybody has a psychological notion when they look at his pictures.”

Ernst Haekel imageAscidiacea, 1904 (c) Ernst Haekel

Anouk Wipprecht: “And I got also very inspired by Edward T. Hall, an anthropologist who wrote the book “Hidden Dimensions”. He basically travelled a lot and researched the behavior and reactions of different types of culturally defined personal spaces.  He has developed a concept of social cohesion which describes the personal space in different cultures.”

spaces around the bodyPersonal space around the body (c) Anouk Wipprecht

Anouk, thanks for your time.