LUCY MCRAE [NL/AU]
"CHLOROPHYLL SKIN” + “PERISTALTIC SKIN MACHINE” + “SWALLOWABLE PERFUME”
Lucy McRae, the inventive pop-body-architect, has been analogically transforming the body through low-tech means such as strings, wig glue, inflated party balloons, stocking, soap bubbles, toothpicks and more. Here are showcased excerpts from three films in which she explores the power of liquids in transforming the body. Part science experiment, part design showcase, the films speculate on what our bodies are “made of” and the limits of our sentient mutability through transfusions, pills, and other bio-tech additives. What McRae seems to propose through these films, is that the membrane between our bodies and the outside world is infinitely permeable, and in a constant state of flux and transformation.
Q: Is the world a safer place because you're not a scientist?
I don't know. I don't make anything harmful, but maybe things get toxic in my studio because they get moldy. At the moment I am cloning humans – with edible products. I think scientists can't eat their experiments.
Q: What's the weirdest thing you've eaten so far?
Well, I can eat my head now (goes to get a jelly replica of her face), because I've molded it. That's pretty weird.
Q: Is human body modification something that you're interested in?
I have been interested in genetic manipulation for a long time. For some reason I think technology and sport are really inspiring.There's a vibrational technology so a gymnast can put on a suit with a sensor that detects an incorrect posture and it vibrates against the skin so the gymnast knows how to correct their posture. This technology is creating the perfect gymnast. When I was young I wanted to run 100 meter hurdles in the Olympics, but of course it didn't happen. I am still interested in the point at which people can't naturally run faster than the person next to them, faster than Usain Bolt, for example. Then it's going to be Paralympic athletes, who don't have natural but modified limbs, who will be able to run faster than the people with all their limbs. Will people start cutting off her feet to get attachments so they can get faster? It almost turns into a bit of a sci-fi movie.
There are tactile textiles and smart apparel nowadays. What kind of effect would you like for them to have in terms of improving your life?
For two years I was experimenting with water to create a mist around my body, to blur the edge of my body so it's almost like “feathering” in Photoshop. I am still interested in things that create a blur around someone's body.
Q: Despite your interest in technology you mostly work with everyday materials. Why?
Because they are available and cheap, for sure, but also because I grew up having to be resourceful. That's like an inbuilt hardwire I've had since my childhood. When I was little I used to take a bunch of fresh lavender, for example, and turn it into a dried flower arrangement.
Q: What you're doing is very much hands on: For example, you're growing grass to place it on the human body. In the end you take a picture or make a video, creating moments and images rather than a product. What drives this?
The fact that it's temporary means that you have to make something new once it's over. This transformation of one thing to another is about wanting to experiment and develop all the time.
Q: Creating your own profession, “the body architect”, opens you up to unlimited possibilities. Should we all create our own professions?
The reason that I came up with body architecture was to get a job. Fake it till you make it. If you can convince someone, it takes you to the next step. That's what I did back then.
Q: What is the human body to you?
I don't really think of it. Naturally it is a starting point for me – the ballet training, the architectural background created this vortex towards the body. The body is like the core, and I build layers and concepts on top of that.
Q: You studied ballet for 14 years. Why did you decide to give it up?
I started when I was four and I was performing half of the time. But I also grew up doing high-level athletics, I was training for the 100 meter hurdles at a really high level, and I also liked changing my room. If I wasn't making up dance routines with my sister, I moved my home around every weekend, so I applied to study interior design. I got into the course, and when I get an opportunity I go for it. I didn't have the perfect ballet body, and I knew that ballet has an expiry date, so I thought: Ok, I'll study interior design.
Q: What did you learn from ballet that has proven most important for what you do now?
It's interesting that you ask that. Actually the more I work, the more I understand my ballet training. In the ballet room, we had mirrors all around and when we were training, we had to become almost like clones of each other. We had to move at exactly the same time, have exactly the same posture. It was about this conscious awareness of what's going on around the room without looking – sort of a periphery of people moving and understanding people's body movements, and mimicking other people's behavior. Going to ballet four times a week, training athletics four times a week, I was always going from one extreme to the other and I feel that's what I'm doing in my work at the moment. What I've learned is discipline, perfecting a routine. I have my classes where I play with things. Then there are dress rehearsals, this is where I push a concept a little bit further. And then we have the performance, which is the final shoot. So in a way it is a bit like a theatrical performance.
Q: Is being creative actually deeply rooted in discipline?
They say practice makes perfect. For me it's a physical and a mental challenge. When I make something great and then start a new project, there's almost this fear of starting again. Can I do something as good as what I did before? Once you get back into the training, it's almost like a seasonal, cyclical experience.
Q: How do you know if an idea is good enough?
Lots of tests, photographs and writing it down, coming back the next day, pushing it and pushing it.
Q: Why do you call yourself a body architect instead of performance artist – we can see you reflected in a lot of your work ...
In my mind, it has a bad connotation. A lot of my work is very solitary, just me and the camera. I'd like to go back in front of the camera, but I enjoy being behind the camera as well. I wonder if it's possible to be in front of the camera and behind the camera at the same time. Maybe I can build a crazy mirror construction.
Q: From being an art director you are moving into being a director. You've just shot a movie for Australian beauty brand Aesop. Did the brand approach you?
I wanted to work with them, since they're one of my hero brands. I managed to meet Dennis, the owner, in Melbourne. We're completely on the same wavelength. In the end it was quite an open brief by him. He really trusted me and it was a wonderful experience.
Q: What's the project all about?
It's a three and half minute short film, my interpretation of what their laboratory looks like. It's about creating super-sensory experiences, seeing the brand through my eyes. I started sticking my experiments on the wall, to see a story, but I had never written a script before. So I started to write a script based on the experiments I had made, I built a set, and then we did the shoot. My background in architecture helps me build worlds that I imagine in my head in a very 3D way. This film was the next layer – the swallowable perfume (an earlier work) was inside the body, then the project I did with Lucy and Bart was about “second skins”, and the Aesop film had to do with architecture. Maybe the next one is performance art.
Q: In a sneak preview still of the movie we can see a human body covered by a plastic foil. What's the story?
I am really interested in air and how we can create a sort of skin around the body. In a Photoshop filter you can blur the edges, or create a whole different outline of the body – the body becomes invisible and less defined. It's playing with this idea of morphing the body.
Q: You once spray painted your body to make its edges look like they were merging with the environment. Are you seeking to connect with the outer world?
I think you're right. I've never really put it in those words, but maybe it's like extending the body in a very subtle way. I guess with a plastic membrane, your body takes up more volume. When I was at uni, I was always interested in how the body can augment a space. My thesis project looked like this: If you were walking in a space then the space would take one type of form, and if you started running, the space changed its form. So it's moving and morphing around.
My former boss at Philips once said I had a very short attention span and that I liked doing things that are on the edges of my capacity – outside of my comfort zone. I don't know why. But scientists don't really know what they're doing either when they get started. Developing bacteria in a petri dish is observation and learning.
Q: Is your short attention span why you haven't become a fashion designer?
Yes, I hate the idea of being labeled and if I have to book something six months in advance, it totally freaks me out. I would like to improve that lack of commitment but I find it very difficult. Being a body architect – there's no point of reference. I don't know what I am doing in six months time, and even though that's rather unsettling and unstructured, it works.
Q: Do you use fashion to enhance energy?
For sure what I am wearing reflects my mood. I do lots of secondhand shopping. It's about being resourceful with what I can find, and there's nothing better than finding a shirt that costs 3.99 Euros, but looks like 399 Euros. I guess I do that in my work as well.
Q: Fashion is the closest space we live in. What has more of an effect on you: The touch of fabric on your skin or the room you're in?
The room. The volume between me and a space. That smell in the air, the oxygen that is moving, the magnetic fields from the technology around us. There's artists who have visually represented those fields and the field surrounding our own body. So the architecture decides where these invisible, subtle fields end. You can walk into a room, close the door and fill that room. But you can also walk into a bigger room and then fill that room.
Q: If you could stage a fashion show, either your own or another designer's, what would it look like?
Oh my God, I've already designed it. I'm just looking for the perfect kind of fashion brand, but it would be an absolute dance production extravaganza. It would be a whole theatrical experience and the clothes would be one element of the show.
Q: Do you attend fashion shows?
No, I will attend my first one on Monday.
Q: How far would you go, personally, for an experiment?
In Brazil, I stuck about 5000 drawing pins to my head with wig glue. I did it three times – after the third time, I thought 'I cannot do this anymore'. Because it really hurts to take it off. After I had a three year break, I am ready to start doing stuff like that again. I think about what happens when things get absorbed through the skin. Can you become superhuman by things that get absorbed through the skin?
Q: If you could choose one superhuman characteristic what would it be?
That's too much of a commitment, because I would want to be able to do all the other things, too. I would like to rent a superhuman power for a month and then be able to switch after a month, and trade it in. Like exchanging superpowers so I can experience them all.
Q: What about things you can experience in this world: Chemical or biological drugs, transcendental communication, physical active meditation like sufi whirling or base jumping?
Bring it on, I say. Less of the biological and more of the base-jumping. Jumping out of a plane, the stuff that challenges your body to a certain extent. If it's biological it's out of your control.
Q: So you would take the swallowable perfume capsules you shot a movie for?
Yes, you would just have to take a sniff to see it worked. I think it would be amazing if you could sweat color that smells. Why not?
Q: What kind of color would you like to sweat?
Re-published from interview by Nina Trippel in Derzeit magazine with kind permission of the artist.