The exhibition Body opened on September 15, 2016, in Pokoyhof Passage in Wrocław, Poland, and is about to close on October 15, offering visitors a last chance to see a curatorial selection of over 30 designers invited by curator Dorota Stępniak to collaborate. The proposition invites the viewers to walk through and question issues of geology, society and technology, concentrating on the closest natural environment that humans have impact on – the body. The idea behind the composition of the exhibition, with different isles creates specially for the occasion and illumination closely linked to the sound of breathing, was to move visitors closer to a state of trance and enable them to concentrate on the evolution and transformations between past, present and the future. Realised as part of the project Human of the Anthropocene – European Capital of Culture 2016, the exhibition is further explained by Dorota Stępniak in her curatorial text: “Our present involves constant thinking about the past, planning, and continuous crossing of the borders, the pursuit of excellence, longevity and superhumanity. Advanced technology, equal access to knowledge and fewer taboos define our modern times and have a huge impact on our future. Today, we combine true self with images created by us. We have never lived so dynamically and never had to make decisions that fast to adapt to constant changes. Despite living in the network of contacts and continuous reception, we have never felt so lost and lonely in our actions. We ask more and more questions to challenge existing models of family, living, working and eating.”
“Over a period of more than sixty years,” Stępniak explains, “the number of population on Earth has more than doubled. The sudden surge of population in the 1950s was related to intensive development of agriculture initiated by the popularization of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, as well as progressing industrial revolution. The latter had significant impact on the increasing contents of greenhouse carbon, resulting in increase of Earth’s surface temperature. Those changes have become one of the propositions to have triggered the Anthropocene, an era when the human has significant influence on the surrounding nature and the changes that happen in it. In the January edition of Science magazine, researchers describe the geologists of the future, who will find concrete, steel, aluminium, plastic, dust from chimneys and exhaust pipes, and radioactive elements from nuclear explosions as a proof of the human’s impact on environment. Changes that take place are not intentional; they are a consequence of the next steps made by humans, steps that are related to industrial, technological and medical developments. So far, researchers determined eons, eras, periods and epochs based on geological studies; this time, atmosphere chemist and Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen announced the concept of the Anthropocene in 2000. This shows how dynamic our lives are and that we speak about the future in tangible terms. The speed of the processes entails both a lot of hope and fear. What is ethical? To what extent can we be monitored? What is public and what is private? Who should have access to data about us? What data should it include? To what extent can we shape ourselves and influence our stature? To what degree should we modify the world that surrounds us? The issues that the man of the Anthropocene has to face are many, therefore the exhibition Body focuses around the closest environment that humans have impact on, which is the BODY; how is it perceived today, what does it mean to us, what do we allow it to do, how do we modify it and change its properties, what fascinates us in it? Human beings never had this kind of impact on the world before, however, worlds that he created never raised so many questions before; about morality, ethics, trust, relationships, possibilities, lifestyle or the influence of technology.”
An otherwise challenging attempt to look at the human body in connection with the environmental and societal transformations taking place around us, the Body exhibition features an impressive series of daring works yet fails to build on any discourse that could be consistently related to the Anthropocene. The concept of the Anthropocene defines contemporary politics and its re-writing of history; it looks at how the human species has evolved into a geological agent and universal subject for whom different cultures, ideologies, agencies, and histories have turned into undifferentiated collective signifiers. The regimes of accusation, responsibilisation, and call to action brought by the Anthropocene have eliminated differences and the distinct political economic histories. And while the Body exhibition closes on this, it does so either too metaphorically or too allusively, in over-simplified statements that barely scratch the surface of the issues at stake. Insistence, in many works, on the body in its relation to fetishistic perceptions or constructions, eroticized transgressions, and affective representations, runs the risk of aestheticizing the discourse, while missing on the opportunity to challenge power relations and political discourses from the perspective of the body. If the Anthropocene becomes a primary reference by which we are to understand the present, the rhetorics of global economies, the catastrophic imaginary, or universalist discourses, our bodies certainly are the the most affordable medium to be used to deliver a consistent critique of how histories and relations have been overshadowed. Works such as Naomi Kizhner’s Blinker or E-Pulse Conductor, Waag Society’s Pet shop, and Quentin Vaulot and Goliath Dyèvre’s reflections around the veracity of the information that we see every day, offer interesting perspectives that may be addressed in relation to current environmental and critical concerns, yet the numerous foreplay and fetishist sexual objects in the show affect its structural and discursive consistence, minimizing the very relevance of the proposed discourse.
Designers and Their Works
Alix Gallet is a French visual artist and designer whose work investigates transpersonal communications and self-fulfilment through technology. The Internet connects products, services and people, yet the validity of our digital datas and online activities remain a big problem, as revealed in Gallet’s project Tricking Biometrics. This validity is linked to the reality of our physical identity, and most connected products and services are designed to use the least involvement as possible. We are seeing a normalization of the use of biometric recognition as a security token, but also as a record introducing our physical identity as datas into the digital world. Our online identity is in fact merging with our physical one. We can’t be anonymous on the internet anymore. In order to do so, you need to be anonymous in the real life. Processes of authentication and identification become the same, interactions with machines become more liquid. If MasterCard offers you to pay with a selfie, will someone seek for the opportunity to hack or steal someone else’s face? As 3D models, we all represent a specific configuration, that can be stolen away or copied, in analog and digital ways, including biometrics. Tricking Biometrics, Gallet’s graduation project from Design Academy Eindhoven, assumes the absurdity of the widespread use of biometric recognition by creating people who can be anyone, someone else, several or not human, protecting their identity from a digital perspective. It translates into the physical world in an exaggerated, satyrical way that we could do to keep our online privacy by reproducing, misplacing, multiplying, stealing, hiding, faking our biometrics, and trying to trick the machines.
Modern life is based on energy, claims Naomi Kizhner, the force that drives economies globally, many times disregarding its consequences. How would the world look like once it has experienced a steep decline in energy resources and how would it feed our energy addiction, asks the artist. In spite of developments in renewable energy resources, the human body is a natural resource for energy that is constantly renewed, for as long as we are alive, and this might be the only resource left in the future. The artist’s intention is to provoke a discussion and make the viewer think about our possible futures and whether humans will be willing to sacrifice their bodies in order to produce more energy. Her E-Pulse Conductor harnesses energy from electrical pulses that are sent through the neurological system, and the gold needles that are inserted into the body conduct the electric current that is later on stored in the micro energy cell. Blinker harvests kinetic energy from the shutting and the opening of the eyelids, the energy is transformed through an electro-magnet and stored in the device. Blood Bridge is a two-headed syringe that allows a by-pass for the blood and actually works within the principal of a hydro-turbine using our blood instead of water.
Scientist Kevin Warwick from the Reading University in the UK used to call himself the world’s first cyborg after implanting an RFID chip in his arm. The artist Stelarc said that the human body is obsolete suggesting that skin could become a breathing tissue that allows for the lungs to be removed and their space filled with technology. James Auger and Jimmy Loizeau have found both approaches relevant yet lacking plausibility – Warwick’s implant lacked a meaningful function (it simply unlocked the door to his office) and Stelarc’s idea was too fictional to be taken seriously. The Audio Tooth Implant was designed as a radical new concept in personal communication. It relied on a general public awareness of hard and well-publicised facts, such as the miniaturisation of digital technology and urban myths such as dental fillings acting as radio antenna and picking up audio signals. The project presented the lifestyle benefit of having a tooth implant. By building on the cultural phenomenon of the mobile telephone, which at the time (2001) was revolutionising human communication, the artists aimed to deliver a concept that would play to then contemporary aspirations. The project was conceived as a response to two situations: the rise of wireless telecommunication technology and the possibility of technology entering the body for non-replacement purposes.
Auger and Loizeau’s Interstitial Space Helmet developed from the idea that, whilst comfortable in front of the screen, interacting with others via web cams and artificial personas, the modern computer user might run into problems dealing with real people in physical interactions. The need for physical presence is diminishing, and technological capacity for altering or even cheating reality has to be acknowledged hence their success in suspending our disbelief in film, advertising and propaganda broadcasts. Their Interstitial Space Helmet aimed to blur these two worlds, taking elements of the virtual into the physical. People who have met in chat rooms and would like to have a more physical relationship but still feel awkward with a full on face-to-face meeting ISH provides an element of the pixilated interaction, wearers can download faces of celebrities to help fulfil interstitial fantasies or consenting couples may take their first tentative steps toward swinging or partner swapping via a networked interaction.
Smell has always been a rather neglected sense; its current low status is a result of the revaluation of the senses by philosophers and scientists of the 18th and 19th centuries, who considered it of lower order, primitive, savage and bestial. Smell is the one sense where control is lost, each intake of breath sends loaded air molecules over the receptors in the nose and in turn potentially guttural, uncensored information to the brain. And the same time, Auger and Loizeau explain, our bodies are emitting, loading the air around us and effecting others in ways we are only now starting to understand. Research has proven that smell information plays, often at a subliminal level, an essential role in anything from sexual selection to general wellbeing. Smell+ explores the human experiential potential of the sense of smell, applying contemporary scientific research in a range of domestic and social contexts, in order to question whether humans can enhance their own sense of smell through various sensitivity techniques.
Quentin Vaulot and Goliath Dyèvre’s project is a reflection on our vulnerability to trust in our ability to produce the impossible. It poses questions on the veracity of the information that we see every day, and the power of images, while speaking of food derives. BoraBora is a conceptual project on the border between art and design commissioned by the Roger Tator Gallery for the Miniflux Exhibition, part of the Fête des Lumières in Lyon. The project was included in the Vitra Design Museum Collection and was part of the Lightopia Exhibition in 2014. While moodiness, flaccid skin, looking dull and tendency to depression are worrying causes, the range of supplements Kelvin Lumen aims to restore one’s vitality; Sunset Laboratories offer a wide range of solar radiation, from Bora Bora to the Maldives, Haiti and the Bahamas.
Each year, around 700,000 babies are born in the UK. An uncomplicated birth in the UK costs the NHS £3,000 pounds. If the NHS were to collapse, and no state was there to help cover these expenses, as is the case in many other countries, it would affect people and allow no other alternative but to give birth independently at home. Anne Vaandrager’s Independent Labour explores future scenarios and creates an ironic alternative by providing a Birth Box with all the instruments one needs to fully prepare and give birth unaided at home. Her project communicates an absurd and cynical future scenario about the UK health system.
“Everyone we meet marks us in a way,” says David Catá. “Their image is projected onto us, reminding us where we came from. Their lives turn into a part of ours. Every stitch over my skin represents them, physical pain is not a boundary, it unites us more by thinking that my hand has been marked on an affective act, by thinking that, at that time, my hand has touched their hand.” Catá’s project, Raíces aladas (Winged Roots), talks about physical and personal traveling. Through the growth of a rose in the palm of the hand, he creates a metaphor about the roots that connect us to a place despite the distance. “It was created in a complicated time of my life where I needed a change,” Catá explains. “With all my strength I decided to move to Berlin. I invested my life worth of savings and started one of the most emotional, difficult and fulfilling journeys of my life. Sometimes it’s necessary to let go of some roots and fly. A metaphor about life represented through a rose bush that grows on the palm of my hand and is ripped off.”
Night-owl photo bacteria, cool-cat spirulina, or fluffy fungi can treat one well if such relationships are harvested between humans and bacteria. Waag Society’s Pet shop was designed to venture beyond the mere reimbursement for costs when having a pet, so as to make biotechnology more accessible to society. Bacteria, fungi, molds, yeasts, and algae can be bought as micro-pets so that people can experience the fun reward of caring for these tiny creatures.
Internal calmness, laconic motives and suggestiveness of vision with constrained tools of expression make people and things created by Edward Hopper seem to exist outside of real time and space. It gives his paintings almost metaphysical character and can be a reflection of the reality that we are living in today. Nastya Ptichek’s Emoji-nation. part 2 is dedicated to Edward Hopper and all the changes that were caused by social media. It integrates classical paintings with today’s thriving social networking features, namely tweets, Facebook status updates, Instagram notifications and the world famous Emojis.
As technology and the human body are converging, we are creating hybrid extensions of ourselves, whether through physical devices or digital data. This raises questions as to how might we begin to install, program, alter, maintain, take-off, or fix these new intimate parts, and what new ecologies of people, devices, and data will form to sustain these new practices. In Sensor Salon, Jenny Rodenhouse and Kristina Ortega investigate new wearable tech aesthetics, communities, and services to support the growing population of wearable technology and personalization strategies. Inspired by existing on-body installation services, Sensor Salon utilizes Los Angeles nail salon culture as a model to help people create, augment, and update their body from the digital to physical, from how it behaves to how it looks. Sensor Salon acts as a test site to investigate new approaches to wearable technology, while also critically examining the impact on the body over time. The project appropriates the salon as a site of trusted conversation, experimentation, and creation between the client and the nail artist. Expanding the model to wearable technology, Sensor Salon introduced new roles, tools, aesthetics, and processes to the routine of body maintenance. Combining nail artists, data analysts, developers, electrical engineers, interaction designers, industrial designers, therapists, tailors, and physicians, to meet and work together, the shop becomes a gathering point, a physical manifestation of this new wearable tech network.
“The anonymity makes us free from the fear of contact with others, but I also like to think that these masks turn the gaze towards the inside and give the opportunity for the wearer to explore their deepest identity. Photos create an alternative, but familiar reality,” claims Francesca Lombardi. “These images have something that came out of our memories, a common object, a traditional handwork re-contextualized. The message is the feeling of watching some people in a timeless space who have no identity, but at the same time they could have infinite faces.” Doily is a series of crocheted masks where Lombardi re-contextualizes the commonplace object as the perfect adornment to the human face. The fabric becomes a three-dimensional statement as each model hides the identity of the couples through different and intricate lace patterns. Photographer Giacomo Favilla documents the ‘doily’ in portrait invoking images of an alternate but familiar reality.
Loneliness is an important subject in the time we’re living in. We are searching for the romantic idea of ‘the right one’ in our lives and have high expectations. Ordinary moments in which all people can feel really lonely, regardless of age, gender, culture, or language are interpreted by Noortje de Keijzer in My Knitted Boyfriend as a cushion with a story and personality. The ‘boyfriend’ is always happy, whether he sits on the floor, on the couch or at the dinner table; but most of all he likes to hug the one close to him. At the moment, there are two Knitted Boyfriends that de Keijzer has created: a light skinned Arthur and a dark skinned Steve. A humorous project about a serious subject.
Friends, a project by Domenic Bahmann, has been used as an editorial illustration for Australian House & Garden Magazine, the December 2015 issue: Ties that bind – An annual get-together is great, but maintaining a connection year-round has physical as well as emotional benefits. The image seems to resonate with many people in the world and serves as a reminder that it is important to have real friends, besides all the digital connections. “For me it was interesting to see how this image became more and more an art-piece when people started to share it on social media and on art blogs.”
“No one can prepare you for motherhood,” claims Katie Murray. “Of course, I had heard the clichés from every side, that it was a lot of work, that one could (or couldn’t) have it all, that my priorities would have to change, that it would be the best thing that ever happened to me. However, there was a failure to communicate how I could simultaneously feel so deeply fulfilled by and connected to this primal state of being a mother, and yet feel so disconnected to my former childless self. The culture doesn’t support the narrative of how motherhood can feel isolating, suffocating and depleting, nor does it allow for the associated guilt for having such ambivalent feelings. I marvelled at how the profound mother-child relationship could be so conflicted and complicated.” Gazelle is the performance of these complex themes. Tony Little, “America’s Personal Trainer” and infomercial regular, is the motivator relentlessly haranguing the artist to feats of endurance. He serves as an absurd running commentary and as a manifestation of a certain kind of cultural disconnect. The Gazelle, machine-animal and woman, acts as a mirror to the artist’s own wife, mother, and artist conflict.
Akiko Shinzato’s Another Skin starts from the premise that we care a lot about how we appear to others. Facebook and other social media are used to broadcast chosen images of oneself and make up an identity. In other words, our appearances can be modified and manipulated as we wish. Another Skin explores how simply you can change your facial appearance with a piece of jewellery. Each piece in the collection partially hides the facial features of the wearer, while revealing a whole other identity. The project is a slide show presentation of jewellery created by drawing wire, forging, soldering, laser engraving and stone setting. Clown is a slide of leather wet forming and skiving mask made for Swarovski on the occasion of Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
It is impossible to see oneself as a complete figure without the help of external devices. What we can see with our bare eyes is a headless body, a restricted view of what is below the neck, with the extended difficulty of seeing our back. Through her most recent pieces, Meltem Ișik explores how photography is associated with the construction of reality, suggesting alternative readings of the body. Utilizing the similarities and differences between the eye of the camera and human perception, she assembles images into a whole that is other than the sum of its parts. Intriguingly, the individual pieces are susceptible to work as modular units, with potential to create new meanings depending on the way they are put together. This conscious decision to create units that can be put together in various ways for each installation is closely linked to the idea of open work in music and performance. In such work, the composer or choreographer does not dictate the order of the units to be played out, but hands it to the instrumentalist or dancer, who is free to mount the sequence of musical units or movement sets in the order he or she chooses, determining the narrative structure of the piece.
Western beauty standards often labels beauty imperfection as something negative, although imperfections make us unique in our most exceptional form. Edmee Jongen aims to show a broader perception of beauty and glorify imperfections as an adornment of the human body. Instead of increasing uncertainty concerning beauty standards often shown by the media, Jongen seeks to show beauty in its purest and most honest form, inciting people to think of what they see instead of judging. In a combination of beauty and the sublime, the artist merges symmetric features, repetition of forms and Baroque elements that originate from the 18th century concept of the sublime, to visualize imperfections and show the beauty of various types of imperfection in a series of colossal necklaces. The combination of different materials that represent the body and its features, from the extreme to daily-based ones, allows Edmee to translate these imperfections into prints, glazes and other material studies.
Juuke Schoorl highlights body flexibility and adaptability in her work, as well as its function as inherent biological upholstery. In Rek (‘stretch’ in Dutch), the artist explores the aesthetic possibilities of the human skin through a mixture of image capturing techniques. By manipulating the stretchable material with various low budget materials like nylon thread and cello tape, the stretch is temporarily shaped into surprising textures and shapes.
Daniel Ramos Obregón’s pieces took as a starting point the concept of outrospection initially introduced by academic Roman Krznaric, where he proposed that in order to know oneself, one must live toward the outside. By experiencing life, one discovers and shapes oneself. Krznaric’s concept is related to out-of-body experiences, more commonly known as astral projectors, seeking to represent in a metaphorical way the mind being projected inside out of the body as a way of self expression and representation. The collection was hand crafted out of porcelain body casts, gold plated brass metal frames that encompass the body, hand turned Colombian hardwood and vegetable tanned leather harnesses.
Ditte Trudslev Jensen’s projects draw their inspiration from the concept of masks and transformation through change of appearance, challenging traditional ideas of adornment and beauty. The Jewel-o-theek seeks to explore different ways of exhibiting jewellery and a fascination of the face as a platform for showing objects on. The aim is to invite people to interact directly with these rather untraditional pieces.
Sexual pleasure for women has been marked by cultural stigma and taboo; the landscape of badly designed products do little to advance its perception. The Vesper Vibrator Necklace changes the conversation around pleasure through its elegant design and boldly embraces pleasure as part of our identity. Vesper is a wearable vibrator necklace that is both a piece of jewellery and a strong slim multi-speed vibrator that charges via USB. Vesper embraces design ideals while blurring the boundaries of public and private space, identity and fashion, power and desire.
“Even though we are living in highly sexualised atmosphere, in reality pleasure is still a taboo. Seductive wisdom requires cultivation and knowledge. My goal is to dismantle the pleasure taboo,” says Betony Vernon, whose Tuxedo Bondage Sado-Chic kit was designed in 2004 and is comprised of a Sado-Chic bond link, Sado-Chic cufflinks and a set of cotton or silk wrist cuffs. This signature collection continues to evolve and is composed of approximately 50 pieces to date. The Sado-Chic kit includes an O-Ring and a Cuff that are linked together with a removable chain. The ensemble is ultimately designed to share with someone you adore. Being bound together, however symbolically, incites a distinct and profoundly intimate sense of connection. Alternatively, wearing it on its own as a statement piece relates to the importance of feeling bound to oneself. The String of Pearls Massage Rings is an item to transition office attire to cocktail party chic. Its luminous beauty is not only intended to make a fashion statement, it also brings a luxurious dimension to intimate massage. The Second Skin series is composed of anatomic sculptural objects that are designed to literally embrace and shield various parts of the body, including the hips, the feet, the shoulders and, in this case, the hand. The object empowers the wearer by instilling them with a distinct sense of protection and therefore strength. The slick, smooth and highly polished designs respect the anatomy of the body and utilize its muscular structure in a way that the objects do not require fastenings or closures of any sort. It is, in fact, the body itself that holds the second skins in place.
Droplet Necklace is one of the original pieces of Ti Chang’s foreplay jewellery collection. Droplet’s discreet aesthetic is designed to be worn in public and/or private settings. A lariat styled necklace with vibrating pendants on both ends is designed for nipple stimulation. The pendants are attached to adjustable leather strings to secure on various nipple shapes.
For Eelko Moorer, the shoe becomes a mysterious functional object, a tool, a placebo for practicing balance. The Stilts seem uncomfortable because they are referencing and mixing African fetishes and bondage. The idea was not to make wearable footwear necessarily, but footwear that could function as a therapeutic prosthetic object with a psychological function for the user. It lets the user experience his own body, making him conscious of the flesh through strapping on the stilts in a bondage kind of way and via balancing on the tips of the heels.
“My aim was to give women a spine, by giving them support and self-confidence in the world of fashion,” claims Marina Hoermanseder. Feminine contours, high-cut seams, and an elegant eroticism recall the glamorous bath and bodice lingerie of the 1950s. The collection unites progressive cuts with fetish elements, experimenting with sharp contrasts and playing with the beauty of the unconventional. Draped leather and pearly straps break with the severity of the leather and unite fetish with feminine elegance. For her celebrated designs made of vegetable-tanned, hand-lacquered leather, Hoermanseder draws her inspiration from sources such as 18th century orthopaedic corsets, breaking with convention through her aestheticization, in turn evoking a distinct allure. All of the pieces in the collection bring together the highest level of craftsmanship with elegance and eccentricity, exhibiting a passion for detail down to the smallest of elements.
*The information around the Body exhibition (exhibition views, designers’ works, and descriptions of the designers’ projects) has been kindly provided by Karolina Kubala, project coordinator of the exhibition. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.