Since Bora Zivkovic first asked me to moderate a session back at ScienceOnline 2009, I've been hoping to instill the importance of imagery into the wider science communication conversation. And it's been working, in fits and starts. One of the most enthusiastic advocates for bringing sciart into scicomm is thankfully also the Executive Director of ScienceOnline, Karyn Traphagen. Over the past few years the ScienceOnline community has grown by more than a few fine artists, scientific illustrators, medical illustrators, cartoonists and photographers.

Last month saw ScienceOnline Climate. Although I wasn't able to attend, with artists like Michele Banks present, I was happy discussions about good imagery would once again have a voice. This is a conversation not everyone has heard or is listening to, and for scientific literacy and advocacy to prevail, it needs to.

Once again, Karyn had a great idea to get people talking: wear the image.

Excited about it, Karyn Traphagen contacted me and put me in touch with Celine Semaan, the open-culture, Creative Commons advocate science-artist behind Slow Factory who designed the dress with Valerie Dumaine. The image on the dress shows Greenland's melting ice sheet and glaciers. Using open copyright, publicly available satellite images from NASA, the Slow Factory website states,

Limited Edition NASA Telescope & Satellite Images Printed on Silk.

No borders or political boundaries can be seen from space. WE ARE ONE.

*We ship everywhere.*

I'm grateful I was able to do this short interview with Semaan (thanks for putting us in touch, Karyn!)

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  • Where does your studio name Slow Factory come from?

I imagined our store floating in space next to the satellites and printing directly from space :). We are also part of the Slow Fashion Movement which means we are a sustainable business, we almost print and make according to our demand, we run limited editions and sell out of them very quickly. Only after that do we start a new production with natural fabrics sourced from India from a socially and environmentally responsible company, and the garments are made between Montreal and New York. It's not a fast-paced process. It takes time to make things right. And for the worms to make silk, it takes time too. :)

  • What's the loftiest language you could use to describe the NASA and satellite images being worn on clothing?

To me it almost spiritual, to wrap yourself with the Universe, with the Earth. The nature of the Universe facilitates meditation, I personally find peace of mind looking at these images. That is how it all started. And what can be a better way to remind ourselves of the beauty we are surrounded with? I believe this thought keeps us open-minded and kinder.

  • What's the fastest, coolest soundbite you could use?

I'm not sure I understand this question..

  • Fair enough! Besides I came up with one that's now the title of this blog post. You describe yourself as a "Creative Commoner of the soul". How important is it to you to get images out into the world that are under Creative Commons? Why wouldn't you be more protective of the images?

Is there a point to try to lock these images down under a copy right license? They belong the to the World. Even if I tried to limit their use, I might only cause more harm both to myself and to culture. I believe that Everything is a Remix. In fashion, there are no copy rights, only trade marks on the Logos: the creativity in fashion, the trends, the culture and sub-cultures are so rich! In music the copy-rights are creating more harm then good, because now that we have entered the loss of the physical support for music, how do we monetize on it? There needs to be a new way to think about making money that is not based on limited the use. What inspires me is the act of generosity. That what is fuels science, culture and the arts in general. Why try to limit the use and therefore limit creativity? What good does this serve the humanity?

  • What image would you never put on a dress? (Personal aesthetic reasons, political, etc)

The image of war.

  • Karyn Traphagen is one of the great science connectors of our time. How important is it to you that the dresses and clothing spark conversations?

Without conversation, the dress doesn't exist. That is how important it is to me to have it seen, worn, re-appropriated, styled, owned. Its story will be heard only when it raises enough awareness that we all shift our thinking from the mindset of using the Earth to respecting the Earth and reconnecting with its energy so that we protect it and slow down on the extraction of oil and tar sands. It is an alarm bell just like so many others. The more we ring them, the more they'll be heard. As a humanity, and to reconnect with our surrounding and creating new ways to reuse energy. Science is the breath of progress.

Thanks for your time Celine!

Click any of the images below to learn more about them.

Terra Modis dress and top © Slow Factory. Photography by Sylvain Blais.

Fractal Motion of Clouds, imagery captured by Landsat 7 off the coast of Chile, showing a "von Karmen vortex street", and printed by Slow Factory onto a silk scarf.

© Slow Factory


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How are you enjoying the September SciArt Blitz?! It's been a surprising and fascinating month so far, and there's more coming!

On this day last year, Kalliopi featured the trompe l'oeil work of Marlin Peterson in her post, Arach-Attack!