Serena Williams is a Team Player

Tennis star Serena Williams wore a dress designed in part by software artist and Processing initiator C.A.B. Reas during her first match of the Australian Open today. She’ll be wearing the same dress – actually a unique variant of the same dress – for each of her games during the tournament.

I say ‘designed in part’ because the dress was the result of a multi-layered collaboration. First, a collaboration between Mr. Reas and his wife Cait, who runs a design studio called 1 of 1. Next, a collaboration between 1 of 1 and Nike, who has the sway to convince Ms. Williams to wear the experimental garment for the tournament. Perhaps most interestingly, the design of the dress also involved Serena herself, who played a part in the process by interacting with Reas’s Protean Image software:

(image from reas.com)

“I love patterns. . . I’m really inspired by prints. I remember I was sitting in my apartment and I literally had to go to, like, different pages on the computer and kind of graphically design the pattern. So it was interesting. It was just really weird concepts. We came up with some circles and some lines, just kind of things like that. It was cool.” – Serena Williams

Protean Image engages human users to participate in a creative process by filling out modified programming cards, inked in with personal design decisions. These cards are inserted into the Protean Image Machine, which generates an image at least partly informed by the user’s choice. This process seems to ask the user to re-examine the interaction between user and machine, and also questions the perceived rigidity of computer programs. At the same time it raises issues of authorship. Who is the artist in this relationship? The person filling out the punch cards? C. A. B. Reas? The computer?

In the case of the dress, the whole process could lead to an over-sized label – Nike, 1 and 1, Reas and Williams would all seem to deserve credit. But, since there are no under-the-cuff close-ups in the images that I’ve seen from Getty Images, we’ll at least have to wait until the tournament is over to find out.

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