Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Lucy and Bart: genetic manipulation and beauty expression

Creative collaborators since 2007, Lucy McRae, an Australian ballerina turned body architect, and Bart Hess, a Dutch design forecaster, tell jotta about making mundane materials magical, a love of being in front of their own camera and a desire to create anthropomorphic fashion.
How did you meet? 
We met working at Philips Design on a project that accelerates a vision for next generation sensitive technology mounted under the skin. It was clear when working together we had a similar vision and from there it started.

What are your backgrounds?

(Lucy)I trained as a classical ballerina for fourteen years and went on to study Interior Design at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Since moving to London, and now Holland, my work has been taking new directions and in many ways this has been influenced and dictated by the cities and the people I have around me. I have been working as a Body Architect at Philips Design in a far future design research programme exploring the human body and technology. I have a new studio in the Red Light District and am developing projects around moving image and fashion. I naturally gravitate to the unusual and outlandish, it’s what I like doing and being part of.

(Bart) In 2007 I graduated from the Design Academy in the Man and Identity department. This department looks at finding new materials, forecasting trends in fashion and culture. I made a collection of fake fur that touches on elements of fetishism, human instinct and new animal archetypes. With that collection I did not try to mimic real animal kingdoms but create a fantasy world of my own. 

What inspires your work together?

Very ordinary objects and materials inspire us. If we are looking for new inspiration for a project we go to the supermarket and have a look around. With our newly found material, we exploit its limits and explore its every possibility. It is amazing to see how a material can change in appearance and original purpose when you incorporate the skin and body.

Do you see your work fitting into a specific genre? Is it performance art? Is it dance? Is it sculpture?

We think our work is a reflection upon society and current technologies, but we have no specific intended audience or genre. During Dutch Design Week in 2008, we had a live ‘plastic surgery session’, where we manipulated faces of the audience. Some reactions were quite extraordinary when they let us totally transform the folds of their skin and face.

How do you create each work? What sort of process do you go through from an idea’s conception to its realisation?
As we work we allow ourselves to make mistakes, we find new possibilities for a material. We are both model and photographer and don’t need to explain or give reason to a concept we want to create. It’s like working in an upward spiral we make each other more and more enthusiastic as the day goes on.

How do you source your materials and what inspires you? There seems to be many unconventional ‘clothing’ materials, such as those in the Germination and Grow on you series, how do you go about sourcing and obtaining materials?

'Grow On You' was an experiment with washing up liquid, water and food dye. We had no idea how the liquid would react or drape over the body we only had an idea of what silhouette we wanted. The material and its behavior ultimately defined the end result working fast before the foam dropped off the body.

How does your background in dance effect the way you work?

I have an idea of what shapes I can create with my body without seeing them in a mirror. For example in Evolution I knew what I wanted to see and where my arms and legs should be placed. Bart learnt fast, too, and now he also knows what positions look good. We both like being in front of the camera!

Do you see your work as being within the trajectory of artists such as Orlan or is this predominantly a fashion venture?
We work in a primitive and limitless way that does not rely on fashion but on instinct. We start with a single material, exploring volumes on the body and ways of re-shaping the human silhouette. We just enjoy experimenting with materials.

Tell me about Hook and Eyes. How did it come about? With this sort of shot are we being asked to read into anything, is there a deeper message being relayed? Or should we take it for surface value?

Hooks and Eyes happened in an afternoon of sticking things on our face, contorting or skin and creating temporary expressions not usually possible. When we made this image we were discussing issues around plastic surgery and the boom of the ‘monoaesthetic’. I guess subconsciously this was our reaction. 

If you could create any “genetic manipulation” what would it be? 

We have an imagined fantasy brand, which is a fashion that grows from the body. It is part human, part animal, self replicating and devoid of a brand name. Grown at different densities and viscosity, it lives and breathes with us.


Check out more of their work at 

By Eleanor Weber

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