October 1, 2020
Ahree Lee Highlights How Women Pioneered Weaving and Early Computing
With a virtual exhibition at USC Pacific Asia Museum, the artist connects jacquard weaving with computer programming and the lives of the women behind both.
Surfaces of all kinds are top of mind these days, so we decided to look at all aspects of them, in these articles, from A to Z. Thinking of surfaces less as a product category and more as a framework, we use them as a lens for understanding the designed environment. Surfaces are sites of materials innovation, outlets for technology and science, and embodiments of standards around health and sustainability, as well as a medium for artists and researchers to explore political questions.
It was a woman who first clearly saw what computers might be capable of, and wrote the first computer program. Though Charles Babbage created the digitally programmable computer, his invention was intended primarily as a tool for mathematics. But his friend Ada Lovelace published the first script for his machine in 1843, speculating that it could be used to do all sorts of things—even compose music. Babbage’s “Analytical Engine weaves algebraical patterns,” she wrote, “just as the Jacquard Loom weaves flowers and leaves.”
Los Angeles–based artist Ahree Lee has now woven that quote into a textile as part of the project Pattern: Code, now on display virtually via the USC Pacific Asia Museum exhibit We Are Here: Contemporary Art and Asian Voices in Los Angeles. During an artist residency at the city’s Women’s Center for Creative Work, Lee visualized the connections between women and computing, both historical and contemporary. By weaving Lovelace’s quote as well as data on women in the tech industry into patterns resembling Jacquard-loom punch cards, Lee pulls together the threads of how women’s contributions have been consistently undervalued in this domain for nearly two centuries.
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