June 7, 2013
Designing Gravity; Five Young Designers and the Body: Yiqing Yin, Lawrence Lek, Jieun Kim, Eve Bailey & Kordae Henry.
Today I want to talk (once again) about the body and its relationship to design by presenting five young (four of them are less than 30 years old) designers (two French, one German, one Korean and one American) who each in their own way challenge the body through their design and vice versa. In order to do so, I will introduce them successively from the design at the closest of the body to the one at the furthest. We might call the first one fashion, the last one architecture and the ones in between industrial design or art, but really that does not matter at all and attributing these designs to a specific discipline would be missing their common point: their investigation on the body. It is true that the scale of clothing (or prosthetic), because of its privileged relationship to the individual who wears it, might present a more direct political dimension as it introduces an immediate performativity of the same individual within the public realms. What we wear is necessary a form of political expression of our desires, our gender, our social class, our ethnicity, or rather the desire, the (non)gender, the social class, the ethnicity and the relationship to society and to the norm that we choose to express. I would like to claim nevertheless that the same is true for the localization and behavior or our body, and that also involves our relationship to the designed and built environment that surrounds it. Most of us do not design our own clothes, our own furniture, our own buildings. What the body make of them is obviously conditioned by the design, but it can also consist in the subversion of these conditions, or at least in the sum of behaviors that go beyond the original spectrum of behaviors imagined by the designer and other decisive actors of a design.
The following projects were not necessarily thought through political arguments; it is actually not impossible that none of them actually were. I would claim however that design being necessarily political because of the relationship its develops with the bodies, designing for the body cannot be not making a voluntary political argument. For example, none of these five works are arguing for the comfort of the body. They might nevertheless be at the antipodes of the Cruel Designs (i.e. designs that are conceived in the voluntary goal of hurting the body) I regularly address in these articles. Comfort is certainly not the opposite of pain. The opposite of pain is the Spinozist joy experienced by a body who realizes that it is empowered by its vitality. These five works, all in their very specific way, invoke this joy. The gravity they design is not one that crushes the body to the ground, it is rather one that the body, in its materiality, can play with, dance with, jump with and support itself upon, taking advantage of each surface of fabric, wood, metal, plastic or concrete that interact with it.
Each work that Eve Bailey (see her guest writer essay) creates explores in a very direct way the relationship between the body and design. I chose here her Shoulder Path but it could have also been her own corporal experiment with a stepladder as a sort of dialogue with Jieun Kim’s film, or her Drunken Body, Entasis Dance or Intuit performances that all involves a design that has been thought specifically for the body, but that the latter requires to continuously negotiate with both the designed surfaces and gravity. Her work is an ode to the research of balance for the body who needs to not fall, of course, but also to find the various gravity points of the design in order for it not to fall either.