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soft robots – biomaterials research & final

in one of the soft robots classes, we did a field trip to Material Connexion which is a company that has a database of materials. We went to visit their library (pretty cool!) and I got very interested on a material that was made out of pineapple juice:

As Kari mentioned, we have access to Material Connexion’s onlien library, where we can see more details and I decided to look further into that material. After struggling a bit to get access to the online database, I finally got in and this is what I got from it: It’s a biocellulose fiber, made in Thailand. It’s produced in small sheet sizes and it has a 4 way stretch property. I tried googling for the company but their website is off; they did have a contact in the database, so I emailed them. While I tried but I couldn’t get that much informaiton from the company that makes it, I started searching about this material. It seems like the fiber is made in a similar fermentation process that Kombucha leather is made; there are fibers made out of the pineapple leafs. It seems like the former has a thicker feeling, so it has been used as a replacement for leather.

Which brought me to a research regarding biomaterials. I was very interested in the Kombucha leather making process and decided to try it. Biocuture is a London based studio that is kind of the pioneer of the material and they shared the recipe in the internet, so I follow their lead and started my own kombucha leather production. Luckily I had a friend that had a scoby (Kombucha mom), so I was able to start it fast.


I still have the Kombucha culture fermenting / creating the surface fiber, but it’s still not ready to be taken out of the culture. Once is taken out of the tea + sugar + vinegar solution, it has to lay on a wood piece to dry – then it’s ready to be used. I continued search for other biomaterials that I could possibly try to explore for the final assignment and also found this bioplastic that seems simple to be produced. Time wise, I needed to decided what I wanted to explore and I felt like what was more exciting for me about soft robots class was the material exploration. I looked through the soft lab and I found this nude latex that I felt like it had a few characteristics that I was looking for in biomaterials. So I decided to prototype with it, exploring the cable systems. To do so, I started testing which combination of latex + ropes + hole finishing had less friction. At some point i started putting metal rivets on the holes and with a rope slightly waxed it works great. So I decided to do a necklace with a rivet grid, so that I could explore how the arrangement of 01 / 02 / 03 ropes would create and how it deformed the latex.



After I tested many arrangements, I think I was a bit frustrated due to the fact that it didn’t feel like I could predict what is the shape that I’d get by pulling the rope. Which I guess that if I had more time, I’d get more experience and would be able to get more results. The plastic ducks came in hand (from an old necklace) because they created a counter-weight necessary so that the shape would undo once I released the ropes. I hope I can still test the cable system with biomaterials (hopefully the bioleather) and I also want to try to explore more inflatables and silicone molding.


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thesis – comparables



Adrian Piper’s calling cards





















Roopa Vasudevan’s Hate Couture –


Ying Gao’s (no)where series –

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thesis – timeline

there are still a few details to add as time passes (and i understand better what i need to do).

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thesis – core ideas and more question

stripping down the opera frame, what do i have left?

is it really necessary to be in the opera context? i think my kickstarter moment was in opera, with this passage of a lecture i attended last summer about Lucia Lammemmoor:

Some scholars and contemporary directors (Francesca Zambello, Met 1992, and Katie Mitchell, 2016 ROH) have toyed with and theorized the role of Lucia and so, we have a great range of viewpoints on her character and the portrayal of the role. Is she a victim of the patriarchal manipulation of the men in her life, led to madness by her brother’s controlling personality for the sake of his lacking business bravura? Or, is her madness a vehicle to freedom from it all? Would that make her a victim OR her own heroine?

this moment of reflection for the presenter made me think of how certain female characters can be framed as a mad or heroines depending on the vocabulary choice. on that perspective, i started analyzing how the male characters refer to the female characters (either describing or talking directly to them) and i noticed that there is normally a pejorative tone on the speech. and then i questioned myself: is there a way that i can flip this pejorative speech and turn it into something that empower female? and most importantly, is this a question exclusive from the opera context?

the answer i got for the latter question came right away. no. it is not exclusive from opera. being perceived different than yourself through speech is something that happens on a daily basis and, as a women, we are constantly being suppressed by negative vernacular habits. interventions that start with “well actually”, phrases such as “you’re being emotional” or “you wouldn’t understand” make part of our daily interaction with men (and sometimes even with women). they are cultural vices that goes by without we realize and it takes time after the conversation for us to reflect and conclude that actually that was not a nice way to talk to someone. and talking with friends, after we reflect we always think how we could have answered or intervened in some way but because of timing we end up not bringing that up later – specially when it’s some kind of vocabulary usage that is not directly offensive.

can we empower women by pointing out subtle moments of misogynist cultural vices? can we help our community in not breaking the cultural mannerisms that we don’t think that much? can we, as women who are frequently interrupted by sexist vocabulary in conversations, act faster and be able to talk with people that are using these terms without realizing how they can be harmful?

what social gender norms am i talking about? what within that i want to tackle?

with that being said, i’ll be focusing on conversation as an interaction we have as humans and how vocabulary usage can reflect misogynist ideas that are inherent in our culture. the gender norms i’ll be talking about is what are the language expressions usually used when talking to women – and form those, which can make females feel harmed / discomfort / self-doubt.

what are the core elements of my project?

female empowerment

wearable device that reacts through live semantical analysis of conversations

what are the goals of this project?

give the opportunity for females to act faster when people use sexist expressions – and also to make people (including women) reflect over their vocabulary usage.

is there any room for improvisation?

yes! i guess it would, because a lot depends on the connotation and how i decide to implement it – so i’d assume that if i decide to implement semantical analysis through machine learning, it would likely evolute and understand when it’s ok and when it’s not to use certain expressions.

what is the context of application?

i’m still open for this one but i think that now i’m thinking about a daily routine accessory – but maybe there could be specific interactions that will go beyond the daily basis usage, such as art installations, performances for the device – maybe as costume prop skeleton?

what the wild woman archetype has to do with this?

the fact that people are still using archaic verbal expressions just reinforces female stereotypes and make females drift away from our essence and instinct.

new references:

mansplaining –

microagressions database –

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thesis – proposal feedback

once we submitted our thesis proposal, we got a feedback from it. I got thumbs up but they definitely made me think a lot of different things. i’ve high lighted a few things on the comments that i thought that were interesting or made me rethink what is the scope of my project.

Matt Romein

You’ve done a great job researching and articulating the elements of your research that you find interesting. I’m starting to wonder if the central idea you want to explore has outgrown the context of opera though. The central idea of language and words and vocals and how they are used against women in the realm of micro-aggressions, shaming, demeaning, and catcalling is a rich area to work from and examine especially when you are looking at how to manifest and visualize/audiolize these slights. The context in opera is tricky to navigate though since it has explicit rules of how it is performed and viewed and having the text and language be predetermined makes the idea of doing live semantic analysis redundant and conceptually confusing. I would ask what is more important to you at this point, opera or verbal aggressions and slights towards women. I don’t want you to feel like I’m telling you to abandon your idea but I feel like there’s a lot of breathing room for the things you want to explore if you work outside of opera specifically. If it being opera is extremely important to you then by all means continue to explore it. I think there are a lot of conceptual parts to the project that need to be ironed out still and I’d be more than happy to work with you to figure those things out.


Your thesis proposal is clearly well researched and your reasons of intent are solid. I think you need to focus on why opera is so important to you in designing around social gender norms and which norms in particular you want to address. I agree with Matt that I think you need to consider other situations in which this project can come to life, as it has many applications to scenarios outside of opera.

Reviewer 1:

Given that opera is tightly scripted and directed, wouldn’t you be able to know in advance, and then be able to direct the performer to change her actions accordingly?

I am all for changing the gender power balance, but I don’t understand why there is need for a device to analyze a pre-scripted event, when a human can do that so much better. Instead of making a device, why not just hire a director more attuned to gender politics?

Reviewer 2:

Cool idea. I personally think this would be much more interesting device if it were pitched toward an “everyday” context. Opera, in itself, is an interesting topic too, but having the device and opera come together in this project may not be the best for either investigation.

Reviewer 3:

I like the idea of using technology to transform a female voice. In what ways will your device change the female voice in your project? Will the actual words spoken change? The tone of the voice? The tenor? What does a wild woman sounds like?

My main question is about the connection between opera and your concern about social gender norms. It sounds like opera is a personal love and something you wish others loved, too. How does this overlap with your thoughts about female empowerment? So many of the opera texts are from a long time ago. Gender norms have evolved, if slowly, since many operas were written. Perhaps your device would be better applied to more current performative art forms or even to real time social situations to show how far we still have to go.

I’d like to hear more about the social gender norms that will be used to identify the use of authoritarian speech/text. How agreed upon are they as norms? Who has determined them? Do they apply equally to male-female and female-female conversations?

Have you heard of the Bechdel test? It’s used a lot in the film industry to determine whether or not a film includes strong female characters and to point out films with gender inequality that fail this simplest of tests. It’s very simple – do two female characters have a conversation about something other than a man.

Reviewer 4:

I’m very on the fence with this one, because having talked with you I really like the core ideas, but the current output relies on vocal amplification. Opera inherently is against vocal amplification. So while I really respect the question and its goals, I think the project needs a significant shift.

Backing up I agree that “why opera” needs to be addressed more clearly. I think you could argue with some deep research, that there was a cycle of opera reinforcing gender norms through history. And certain powerful sectors might still attend the opera regularly. (You could focus your study on the Met for example, and look at their corporate sponsors. You could even go through one of their programs to see top donors, or there are various non-profit tools to try to parse out their donors.)

You will know the entire score and libretto befhorehand. So the sensing might be to track where in the score they are at each performance, but you will know ‘when’ these moments occur in advance.

Also you should look at shows that were pretty sexist when written, directed today by strong women.  A great example (I think still running??) is Sweet Charity directed by Leigh Silverman. Because a strong directoral hand can help.

If you want to focus on the music, perhaps you focus on the orchestrations. Scan the score and the libretto. Find those moments. And then have the orchestration change at these moments you want to highlight. Perhaps dropping out under the male character in moments, or boosting the female characters. I believe there was some great work NVIDEA was funding on using their cards for machine learning and orchestrations.

Reviewer 5:

I love the idea…..but you would already know the libretto and what is coming so it doesn’t need to respond dynamically and live.

The interesting thing to me is that gender norms are still alive and well, so well we don’t often notice them. Anyway, they were 19th or early 20th century norms…What if what the characters displayed was what a modern woman would be thinking or saying. There’s a movie with Mel Gibson called What Women Want, where they guy develops a super power to know what women are really thinking, no matter what they are saying…

Reviewer 6:

I suppose there is a contradiction of going through the trouble of making and interactive device in an pre scripted environment. But I like the idea. Perhaps this is a setting that has all the operatic trapping but leaves room for improvisation of for instance the woman fighting agains the device.

Reviewer 7:

While sharing the concerns of the other reviewers, I kind of echo  looking at the idea not only from opera but from “everyday” context.

The idea of a device that would shift the tonality of the “performer”, make them more aware of the voice they are using and help overcome their “prescripted” voice and awaken their “wild woman” could be a powerful thing in itself.

so in the light of the feedback, i started questioning myself the following things:

why opera?

what social gender norms am i talking about? what within that i want to tackle?

what are the core elements of my project?

is there any room for improvisation?

what is the context of application?

what the wild woman archetype has to do with this?

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thesis – formal talks: Christina DeMaio

As I dive into the Opera world, thought it made sense to go talk with people that are in it. Christina DeMaio is an mezzo / mezzo-soprano opera singer who lives in Connecticut. Once I introduced my inital research to her, I asked her to explain to me a bit better about her engagement in the opera and what is her usual role on productions. To have a mezzo voice means that she normally engages in secondary roles – pants roles such as young, servant boys or minor female characters. The mezzo voice, like the soprano, is likely to be a female voice.

“She looks like a mezzo”

As we started talking about how old compositions were adapted nowadays (specially with the castrati roles), she mentioned that body type can say what type of voice you have. As an example, mezzos are normally tall and slim (and therefore kind of look like boys). They also tend to have long necks, whereas a soprano normally has a shorter one / and shorter larger body. As we started talking about the sopranos, who are usually the main female character voice , she mentioned how the body shaming culture also is present in Opera – specially with the pressure that this type of art is going through to modernize. She mentioned that there is a male opera singer type of voice that is the equivalent of the male soprano. It’s called counter-tenor and it’s very present in baroque music. She said that a lot of times counter-tenors surprises the audience because they are a voice that plays a lot with tradition vs unexpected.

Characterization of characters within Opera

As I asked her if there were specific costumes for voice types, she mentions how what will define the type of costume that the opera singer will sing is the character that they are playing as well as the time period in which the opera was composed – and depending on the director’s approach regarding original production loyalty.On that perspective, sopranos have more to deal with the costume design because if there is a need of being true to the original context, there will be specific gestures and movement to be mimicked and costume can help by creating limitations to the singer not to make contemporary ones.

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thesis – thoughts through informal talks

last week i talked with a few friends about our thesis and i think it was important to get closer to what i want to do, so here are a few interesting thoughts / references / comments:

  • wild men are celebrated, so why not celebrate the wild women?
  • “Cat on a hot tin roof”
  • is the wild woman repression related to a conception os promiscuity?
  • is my project trying to change the connotation of this “hate/repressor” speech?
  • subtly subverting what this speech carries
  • is it an active resistance piece?
  • what is the difference between the double-standards toward gender behavior? are there playful ways of creating juxtaposition of those?
  • are there interesting comparisons between male vs female characters?
  • how can you explore drama since it’s a remarkable characteristic of the opera?
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thesis – proposal

the female identity in opera

how can we reframe the female identity defined by the male characters in opera as a celebration of the wild woman?

My project will be an accessory worn by a female character during an opera performance that, through speech recognition/ text analysis, identifies when she’s being referred by the male characters in an authoritarian tone informed by social gender norms. Through that identification, this accessory will change its physical form and manipulate the female’s voice – projecting the power of being a wild woman. It’s in the nature of the opera to be a performative genre and within it, gender is no exception. It has a long history of how the character’s gender and the performer’s gender were combined (man playing woman, woman playing man, woman playing castrato roles etc) and its through voice, costume and choreography that the gender of the character is truly performed.

I’ll be reading about the following topics (but not limited to them): female identity, gender & opera, contemporary identity, female archetypes, character construction, feminism, identity perception, wild women;
i’ll be reaching out researchers & artists who have done work about women’s empowerment, identity, identity perception as well as being in touch with people from the opera, costume designers & opera singers;
i’ll be researching about text/sound as mediums and how recently possible new technologies can retell the performatic & impactful stories told through the art of opera, text analysis, speech recognition, wearable technologies, soft robotics etc.

through the body of work i’ve been developing at ITP, i found myself very interested in pointing out unnoticed moments of women empowerment through either objects or metaphorical archetypes representations. on this context, it always comes to my mind a question with no exact answer: what it means to be a female? what is the female identity? recently i’ve been reading about the wild woman, the original and natural essence of being a female, and i believe that when women get in touch with that part of themselves, they embody the most powerful aspect of being a female – and it can have the power to change the way women are understood within our society. in addition, i’ve developed through the last 5 years an interest in opera and i see most of my friends underrating it as an impactful art . and as we see a lot of meta art about groundbreaking painting, videos, installations & manifestos, there is barely any artwork that approaches opera content – so i strongly believe this is an opportunity to talk about this art medium & storytelling on a more contemporary perspective. my main goal with this project is to make people rethink of female archetype(s) within the art context & beyond; how it can reinforces negative and/or submissive aspects but also how we can instigate people to rethink about those perceptions and reflect this on their daily lives.

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thesis – (a few) references

Manet’s Olympia

Yoko Ono’s Voic Piece for Soprano

Marcia X

Cindy Sherman’s portraits

(which brought me to Prima Donna)

Women who Run with the Wolves

Ying Gao‘s high tech conceptual fashion projects

Elza Soares – Woman at the end of the world album (the fun present in her lyrics – even when she talks about serious topics such as physical agression towards women, transgender & society issues).



Mãeana (music texture and aesthetic)

Solange – Seat in the table (lightness while addressing serious racism issues and stories)

Martha Rosler’s Semiotics of the kitchen

Nijinsky’s L’après midi du faune

Gaga dance technique

Heart Beat Opera company

Loft Opera

William Kentrigde’s Lulu

Louise Lawler’s Bird call

John Everett Millais’ Ophelia

Anne Goodfriend’s wearable project

in the peking opera, there are 4 types of characters – dan is referred to any female character, originally played by men, then played by man and woman and now played mostly by woman. They have 5 types of female charactes:

Zhengdan role was the main Dan role in the Northern Zaju. Zhengdan refers to young or middle-aged women with gentle and refined dispositions. Most of Zhengdan ‘s lines are delivered in song, and even the spoken parts are recited in rhythmic style. Always dressed in a blue gown, Zhengdan is also called Qingyi (blue clothes).

Huadan is a role for a vivacious maiden, a young woman with a frank and open personality, or a woman of questionable character.

Wudan refers to female characters skilled in the martial arts and can be subdivided into Daomadan and Wudan, according to the social positions and skills represented. Daomadan is good at using pikes and spears, and at riding horses. Wudan always wears short robes and the role emphasizes acrobatics. Wudan plays gods and ghosts and has excellent fighting skills.

Laodan usually represents aged women. He/She sings in their natural voices, in a style similar to that of Laosheng but in milder tones. In some types of opera, Laodan is called Fudan or Bodan.

Caidan, also called Choudan, represents clownish and cunning females. The performance of this part calls for exuberance.

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