The Oakland resident, 35, was raised in Japan and blends art, technology, science and fashion in pieces such as “The Masticator,” headgear that gives audio-visual chewing feedback. It will be one of three of Etani’s pieces at “Second Skin: Imaginative Designs in Digital and Analog Clothing” at the Exploratorium on Thursday.
Tell me about “The Masticator.” There’s a piece made of pig rawhide and human jawbone attached to my face and there’s a little switch that acts as a muscle sensor. When I bite down, it pushes the switch that registers the motion of chewing and it makes a little sound and some lights come on. There’s a counter display on my neck — it’s not really about counting, it’s more about shifting the relationship between eating and chewing.
I hear you went to Arby’s with it on your face. A guy was sitting next to me and he immediately moved to another seat and was looking at me. Most of the time, though, people try to ignore it.
What inspired the piece? My grandfather was 104 when he passed away a few years ago. I asked him his secret and he says he chews 100 times each mouthful… . Also, when I was a teenager, I wanted to be an ape. I thought people had to go back to nature, and the first thing you had to do was develop a strong bite. I started training my chewing muscles through massive amounts of chewing gum, but I had to stop after a few years because I developed TMJ [a jaw disorder].
Do you see your creations as art, science or fashion? I see my work as artwork, but inspired by science and technology. Since this is wearable, it’s intrinsically fashion as well.